DeCaro to Corrine Innis
May 9, 2006
Ms. Corrine Innis
Congress of Racial Equality -- CORE
817 Broadway, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003
Dear Ms Innis:
As a scholar of the life and letters of John Brown the abolitionist, I
am writing to thank you for remembering him and his efforts on behalf of
the anti-slavery cause. I have devoted much of my scholarship to
studying Malcolm X and John Brown, and currently am preparing my second
book on Brown which I hope to expand into a larger project of collecting
and editing Brown's letters. As you know, in the 19th century, African
Americans often remembered Brown by doing what the leadership of CORE is
doing today in laying a wreathe on his grave in Lake Placid, New York.
Perhaps with the passing of years and the rise of many notable black
leaders it is only natural and progressive that the focus of the black
community has largely moved beyond Brown to their own freedom fighters
Yet John Brown occupies a unique position, being much more a part of the
black community than perhaps any other "white" man in the history of
this nation. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to separate him from the
bosom of black history and the black struggle against slavery in
particular. As Brown said in his final statement to the Virginia court
that sentenced him to death in November 1859, he and his sons had all
willingly "mingled their blood" with the oppressed African in the United
States. For centuries, white slave masters had "mingled their blood"
with blacks only through rape. John Brown was thus the personal and
complete antithesis to such racist criminality, for he lived with the
intention of union with the oppressed in life and in death if necessary.
This devotion was ultimately realized on a southern gallows.
John Brown remains a point of controversy in this nation today because
many people remain unwilling to admit the gross injustice and systemic
criminality that sustained black chattel slavery, and the extent to
which the oppression of African people has enriched this nation and
perverted the God-given order of human equality. He is defamed as a
lunatic, dysfunctional brigand, and now "terrorist" by academics,
journalists, and television producers because he threatens the fiction
and duplicity that is still embraced as "American history" by far too
many people in this nation, particularly people in positions of
It is highly instructive that the people of Haiti named a thoroughfare
after John Brown in the capital city of Port Au Prince, while this
nation would rather glorify slaveholding presidents and tolerate the
traitorous flag of the Confederacy. No single individual in the record
of this nation is so suspect and despised as Brown, not even the
official traitors of record like Benedict Arnold, or the romanticized,
glorified traitors like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, who used all
their might and ability to tear this nation apart and defend the rights
of slave holders over the oppressed.
John Brown was a Christian man, a man devoted to family and community,
and a patriot in the biblical sense of the word--one who loves his
country enough to stand against it when it is wrong, and to give his
life in the hope that it might be otherwise spared from the divine
judgment that looms overhead. To be sure, he was hardly a porcelain
saint, and there is room for historical criticism in the appreciative
work of historians. But in the commerce of human rights and justice,
Brown was an even greater figure--pound for pound--than even Abraham
Lincoln, whom history has inaccurately crowned as the "great
emancipator." Recall the words of Frederick Douglass in 1876, who
acknowledged that his friend Lincoln "shared the prejudices of his white
fellow countrymen against the negro," and that the 16th President "was
not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model."
Lincoln finally advanced the cause of the anti-slavery movement and
consciously employed John Brown's methods of arming black men. But his
glory is derivative of Brown, just as the moon shines with the reflected
light of the sun. With 2009 coming, the bicentennial year of Lincoln's
birth, this nation will undoubtedly zealously rehearse the legend of
Lincoln's humanitarian greatness even as it eschews and dismisses John
Perhaps someday the people of the United States will have sufficiently
matured in their collective understanding of humanity and human rights
to appreciate John Brown. For it is not simply that his "soul goes
marching on," but that his soul goes marching in advance of most of our
countrymen's understanding. When southerners cried out for secession and
slavery, and northerners cried out for compromise and "whites-first"
policies, John Brown cried out for freedom and justice for all. Thus, we
who celebrate freedom and human equality will proudly celebrate Brown's
life and legacy, and continue to express our warm gratitude to those
like CORE, who remember his life and render a worthy tribute.
Yours in truth,
Rev. Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., Ph.D.
Author, Fire from the Midst of You": A Religious Life of John Brown
Professor, The Alliance Theological Seminary, New York City
Interim Pastor, Fellowship Chapel, Bronx, New York
Jean Libby to Corrine Innis
Dear Ms. Innis -- I would like to add my
appreciation for CORE's remembrance of John Brown on the 206th
anniversary of his birth to that of my friend and fellow Brown scholar
Lou DeCaro, Jr.
Parenthetically I would add my credentials as an active member of CORE,
MidPeninsula Branch (California, San Francisco Bay Area) during the
Movement (1963 - 1970) and editor of the branch newsletter from 1963 -
1965. My associations from CORE in that period, which include Cozetta
Gray Guinn, Henry P. Organ, Cliff Boxley (Sercesh Al-Heter Boxley) and
NAACP's Stan Puryear (Muata Weusi-Puryear) on the John Brown Scholars
list serve, continue to be meaningful and constructive.
My claim to fame re: John Brown is finding primary evidence supporting
the statements by Osborne Anderson and Frederick Douglass that he did
have the support of local slaves on October 16 - 18, 1859.
The second area of my research is a chronology of John Brown
daguerreotypes, which I can't publish online because the images are
owned by historical societies. However, one of the findings was that
Brown was in the habit of having his photograph taken on his birthday in
early May each year. He would give these daguerreotypes and prints as
gifts, including to his wife and children.
One of those gift portraits, to his wife, Mary, was passed down through
the family of Lucy Higgins, who was a friend of Sarah Brown in Saratoga,
California. Lucy's descendant, Lori Deal, has just donated that
photograph and an original letter from John Brown to his wife, Mary, in
Akron, Ohio in 1854 to the Bancroft Library at the University of
California, Berkeley. Her only receipts for these documents was the
promise that the scanned images would be catalogued well and readily
available to students and scholars.
Thank you, Lori Deal -- Happy birthday, John Brown!
Jean Libby, editor
John Brown Mysteries
May 10, 2006
Jean Libby to Bryan Prince
Dear Bryan Prince and scholars,
It is Lori Deal who has done the sharing, by making this historical
treasure--it is indeed authentic, with an addressed envelope--available
for research through the Bancroft Library. She has done it in the spirit
of "John Brown's place in history is a story which still resonates
today. It speaks of the passion for freedom and the fight for equality
that still raises it voice today." (this is quoting Lori)
I am planning to revise the little pamphlet about John Brown's Family in
California that was used as a course reader for a class conducted
through the California History Center at De Anza College entitled "Women
abolitionists of Santa Clara County."
Lori's great grandmother, Lucy Higgins was (with Sarah and Ellen Brown
Fablinger) a progressive woman abolitionist of the late 19th century.
One of the family treasures was an original print of Sarah Brown and
Lucy Higgins by Alice Hare, a photographer whose work is online at the
Bancroft Library. Lucy Higgins and Alice Hare were founders of the
Women's Club in Santa Clara, an organization that supported women's
rights and and protested the discrimination against Chinese and Japanese
workers in the orchards and fields of Santa Clara County. Sarah Brown,
who learned Japanese in order to teach English to farm workers, was
given a gift of a handmade garden by grateful Issei. Sarah Brown was an
orchardist, and some of the trees are still there because her property
was next to the Fablingers (sister Ellen Brown). The Fablinger property
is the site of the present civic center of Saratoga, California. There
is not even an historical marker of this fact!
Lori Deal has given both the Saratoga Historical Foundation and
independent scholar Jean Libby permission to publish scans made of the
treasures she has donated to the Bancroft Library. Don Armstrong made
beautiful scans for her, which was also brought to the Bancroft. I have
photographed other materials before they were donated, and accompanied
I am planning to include the documented story of the Lucy Higgins and
Sarah Brown friendship in the republished work "John Brown's Family in
California" -- and the story of the Keesey family that Alice Mecoy wrote
to you about yesterday. I interviewed and photographed Alice's
grandmother, Beatrice Keesey, in 1976. Alice's father, Paul Keesey, and
her brother, Jim, came to the Madronia Cemetery in May, 2000, where Dr.
Herbert Aptheker spoke in honor of Mary Brown.
The publisher is Allies for Freedom, who produced John Brown Mysteries
in 1999. Allies for Freedom is nonprofit, and it is unfunded. Authors
include Hannah N. Geffert (research professor, Shepherd University),
Evelyn M.E. Taylor (chair of the landmarks Commission of Charles Town
and histories of African American congregations in Jefferson County),
Louis S. Diggs (the Baltimore County African American communities
historian), Eva Slezak (the African American Room, Enoch Pratt Free
Library in Baltimore), Henry P. Organ (longtime civil rights activist, a
school board member in San Mateo County, and regular writer on human
rights issues), Jimica Akinloye Kenyatta (founder of the NAACP in
Charlottesville, curator and designer of exhibitions of African American
photographs, artists, in Charles Town and Martinsburg) and Judith
Grevious Cephas (active in many organizations in Carter Woodson's
original church in Washington D.C. and a resource teacher for gifted
students in Maryland), Katherine Bankole of the West Virginia Archives,
as well as Jean Libby, editor and publisher (just completed the entry on
Technological Transfers for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Africa and
the Americas by ABC-CLIO).
If anyone among the scholars who is moved by Lori Deal's generosity and
strong, loving compassion for humankind that is manifested in this
donation can recommend us to a specific grant source to tell the stories
of women abolitionists in Santa Clara County, California, and their
families, please do so.
My sincere regards and thanks to all the John Brown scholars,