ALLIES FOR FREEDOM: Blacks and John Brown by Benjamin Quarles

ALLIES FOR FREEDOM: Blacks and John Brown

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Quarles -- Professor of History and author of the well-received Black Abolitionists (1969) -- looks at John Brown from a new and welcome perspective. Eschewing the sterile disputes re Brown's psychic balance, Quarles shows that to blacks the Old Man was, before and after Harper's Ferry, a beloved hero. Though an authoritarian personality and temperamentally a ""loner,"" Brown's links with both freedmen and runaway slaves were extensive. Much has been made of the fact that on that fateful day at Harper's Ferry only five blacks joined his embattled band, and Frederick Douglass, despite Brown's entreaties, was not among them. Quarles manages to show that this small number was largely fortuitous and circumstantial -- not, as has been often alleged, a sign that Brown had no support in black communities. Quarles concedes that Brown certainly overestimated the militancy of slaves, mistaking the rhetoric of violence for actual combat readiness. In Chicago, Oberlin and especially the Canadian community of Chatham, Brown had made important alliances with black orators, clergymen and activists. Bad communications and the secretiveness which necessarily surrounded the plans for the insurrection were at least partly to blame for the poor turnout. Quarles also reminds us that unlike most white abolitionists who considered blacks mentally and morally inferior, Brown had no such color prejudices. His sympathy for blacks was grounded in respect, his kindness was not at all patronizing -- this as much as Harper's Ferry endeared him to his black neighbors and allies. A judicious addition to the John Brown bibliography and a fine study of ante-bellum black-white cooperation.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1974
Publisher: Oxford