To the editor:
In response to Kathleen Thomas’s thoughtful e-mail, perhaps the first response is to point out that Mary Brown was never ashamed of her husband’s goals, values, beliefs or tactics to end slavery.
They both lived in a very violent age, were angered by our nation’s sanction and overt support of slavery, institutionalized violence by one group of people over another, and sought to end it by undermining its economic viability as well as providing arms to slaves and Free Blacks so they might defend themselves. She fully supported her husband’s and son’s efforts. They also believed that violence is a part of the human condition, a belief
expressed by President Obama in his nuanced acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Price, which does not mean one should condone or encourage violence, but understand that at times the use or threat to use violence is often an effective means of keeping the peace.
John Brown inspired many people, founders and leaders in the non-violent movement, such as Thoreau, Emerson, and W.E.B. Dubois, and those that have used or advocated the use of violence like Malcolm X, the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground, an influence that continues to this day.
To better understand this dual legacy we invited people from both sides of the equation, people who have literally marched with King and those who believe in the right to use force. A right, by the way, often advocated by the NRA, the right to bear arms to defend one’s property, life, family and nation. As one can imagine, there were moments of strong disagreement as well as moments of accord.
We provided the opportunity for different voices to be heard as a means of fostering understanding of this aspect of the human condition that Thomas deplores. In the end the only soapbox given, or more accurately co-constructed by those in attendance, was a call to end slavery once and for all in the nation and around the world. To that end, all the presenters supported a call for 100 conferences throughout the state within one year, which in this digital age can range from blogs to school assemblies on slavery and the steps that can be taken to end it. These conferences are to take place starting Dec. 16, the date when Brown’s fellow raiders John Anthony Copeland Jr., a Free Black, and Shields Green, an escaped slave, were executed, a violent means of punishment (in contrast to life imprisonment) that is still used in Virginia to this day to penalize and hopefully deter violent acts by others.