Raoul Peck honored at John Brown Farm State Historic Site

John Brown Lives! founder and executive director Martha Swan presents Raoul Peck with a framed print of John Brown and Toussaint Louverture at the John Brown Farm Sunday, Oct. 24. (News photo — Lauren Yates)

LAKE PLACID — Documentarian Raoul Peck, who created “I Am Not Your Negro” and “Exterminate All the Brutes,” was honored by a local volunteer organization during a visit to the John Brown Farm State Historic Site on Sunday, Oct. 24.

The event followed Peck’s appearance at the Lake Placid Film Festival on Friday, Oct. 22, when he was honored at a tribute gala dinner.

Peck tribute

A small crowd gathered in front of the farm’s Upper Barn on Sunday afternoon. The barn permanently houses the “Dreaming of Timbuctoo” exhibit, which chronicles abolitionist Gerrit Smith’s efforts to provide freed Black men with farmland. Bear Fox, of the Akwesasne Women Singers, started the event by singing songs dedicated to her ancestors and family, and guests hummed along when they could.

John Brown Lives! Executive Director Martha Swan told attendees that she and fellow John Brown Lives! organizers had waited years to welcome Peck to the farm. Peck, who is from Haiti, said John Brown has always been an important figure to him.

“John Brown is more than a name for us in Haiti,” Peck said. “I knew of this man before I knew who he was because one of the biggest avenues in Haiti is John Brown Avenue … I did not know when I was a kid if he was a white man or a black man, I just knew he was somebody important in our history.”

Brown was a white abolitionist who attempted to spark a rebellion among enslaved people at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), before the Civil War, and he was eventually executed for those efforts. Brown was known to be inspired by the Haitian Revolution.

Swan presented Peck with an honorary framed print of a painting of John Brown and his inspiration, Haitian General Toussaint Louverture, accompanied by a dedication: “To Raoul Peck, in friendship and solidarity, with admiration and profound appreciation for your strong recounting of the history of white supremacy and racism, from your friends at John Brown Lives! La lutte continue (The struggle continues).”

The painting was done by Peter Seward, a local artist.

“The gift — on behalf of John Brown Lives! — is a reproduction of my painting of John Brown with Toussaint Louverture, a figure in the Haitian Revolution,” Seward wrote in an email Monday. “Martha Swan always has wanted to underline this connection with Haiti, and having Mr. Peck (Haiti’s one-time/former minister of culture, no less) in residence is a fulfillment of that dream.”

Peck was wearing sunglasses during the presentation, and he said he kept them on because he started crying when Swan gave him the gift.

Name change

Swan also announced a possible name change for the farm: The John and Mary Brown Farm and Center for History and Human Rights.

Though Swan said a name change for the farm has been in the works for a while, the name “John and Mary Brown Farm and Center for History and Human Rights” is still unofficial. She said that she keeps “putting it out there” in hopes that the new name will eventually stick.

The farm is operated by the state of New York, and John Brown Lives! is the friends group at the historic site, located on the John Brown Road behind the Olympic Jumping Complex.

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