We traveled to the John Brown Farm Historical Site just outside of Lake Placid for the second performance. The performance of “Voices of Timbuctoo” kicked off a full day of music, speakers, and commemorations for the work of John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and other North Country Abolitionists. We gathered under a large tent for African drumming and dance, a monologue by the famous Civil Rights comedian Dick Gregory and much more. The audience was too big for the tent to contain! They opened on the back and brought picnic tables in handle the overflow. Once again, the choir nailed it. Marsha and George sounded wonderful as well.
Like many others at this event, I was learning a lot about John Brown. Most of American school children learn about his attack on the Harpers Ferry Garrison and perhaps his actions in Kansas. I got the impression from those passing references in History that while he believed in abolition, he was too extreme and too violent. This leaves the wrong impression. Before today, I never know that Harriet Tubman thought that Brown was one of the greatest men of her time because he was one of the few whites who was willing to fight for abolit ion. I never knew that he had a farm in Northern New York State and worked Frederick Douglass and Gerrit Smith. I never knew that between the 1890’s and the 1960’s, “John Brown Day” was a major festival that drew hundred of people every year. I never knew the vital contribution he made to our country’s struggle for equality.
At the end of an afternoon of music, entertainment, learning, and friendship, we moved the audience from the tent to the graveside of John Brown and some of his followers. After some prayers and some songs, I was one three people handed a wreath to place on the graves of Brown, his sons, and his companions killed in Harpers Ferry. As I laid the third wreath down, I couldn’t help but think that many today would not consider men and women who attack an American military installation “heroes.” With the help of scholars like Amy Godine, David Blight, and many more, we get a chance dive deeply into the lives of complex people who responded to complex challenges. I am grateful to have been asked to lay that wreath down.