Celebrate a Great Aniversary for the People's Struggle
To be clear, Brown's actions didn't take place in a vacuum, and certainly weren't the first time that opponents of slavery in the Americas and more importantly freed Africans and slaves themselves had resorted to violent resistance. The Americas had seen slave revolts since the first African captives were forced to cut sugar cane. In what would become the United States brave African men and women had sounded Spartacus's call at Stono in 1739 and again inside New York City just two years later. African women and men lived in maroon colonies throughout the hemisphere as free people, and at the turn of the nineteenth century Haitian heroes established the first and only slave republic in history. During the first half of the nineteenth century in the U.S. Blacks had insisted upon their freedom by participating in or planning full-scale revolts at least a half dozen times, from Gabriel's Rebellion in 1800 to Deslandes's in 1811 to Nat Turner's in 1839.
In response to the pro-slavery raid on the Lawrence settlement, Brown and his compatriots justly killed Slave Power proponents James, William and Drury Doyle and William Sherman. The intense aftermath that followed, known historically as Bleeding or Bloody Kansas, was an early volley in the growing conflict for freedom and real democracy below the Mason-Dixon line. Three years later, Brown and two dozen other brave souls would assault the Harper's Ferry armory prior to being suppressed by the great Southern darling Robert E. Lee. Mere months later millions of Blacks and their white allies would join the thousands of others already engaged in struggle, and for the next quarter century continue to come into struggle in greater numbers than ever before. These fighters would go on to fight for and win some if not the most radical victories in U.S. history.
Repression certainly breeds resistance and single great (white) men do not drive history; as such it seems unfair to claim to much of Brown's role in the period. Conversely we do ourselves no favors by simply ignoring our heroes. The actions taken by Old Ossawatomie and his comrades upon Kansas's grasslands 150 years ago tonight epitomize Mao's famous maxim that a single spark can indeed spark a prairie fire in a more literal way than any other historical example I know of.
¡John Brown, presente!