The Legacy of John Brown

Annie Brown, John Brown’s last living daughter, died in 1926. She was born in 1843 and so she made it to her early eighties.

She was 16 when her father helped incite the American Civil War. She participated by acting as a lookout in guarding the farmhouse that was used as barracks and armory in preparation for the raid on Harpers Ferry. She was 22 when the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished.

Her lifetime began in the first half of the 1800s and continued into the early 1900s. By the time she died, many events had transpired: Lincoln’s assassination, the backlash against black freedom, the destruction of independent black communities, the expulsion of blacks from sundown towns, the creation of black ghettoes, the organizing of the original KKK and the rise of the Second KKK, the enforcement of Jim Crow laws, the wave of lynchings, the emergence of forced labor chain gangs, and the response to black soldiers returning from WWI.

I wonder what her perspective was on all of this. Did she think her father’s sacrifice for the cause was worth what it achieved? What did she hope would follow?

All of this wasn’t that long ago. To put it in perspective, someone alive today who was born when Annie died would only be slightly older than she was when she died. My grandparents were kids and teenagers at the time of her death. As Annie was reaching the end of her life and the lives of a new generation were beginning, a new society was forming out of the ashes of what came before. The last of the Indian Wars were being fought. Those early decades of the twentieth century also involved fights by other minority groups and fights by labor groups. It was an era of radicalism, often violent.

Annie Brown’s lifetime included many fights for freedom. But victory of freedom was still an uncertainty, as it remains to this day. Much more struggle would follow her death, though few later events in this country would be quite as dramatic as her father’s raid on Harpers Ferry.

One thought on “The Legacy of John Brown

  1. For a long time now, I’ve been fascinated with the turn of the century or rather the previous turn of the century.

    The Civil War changed so much in this country. It set the stage for the Populist and Progressive Eras. It presaged the Civil Rights movement.

    But the early 1900s fascinates me most of all. It was when this country was becoming what it is today. There was industrialization and new technologies. With World War I, the entire world was turned on its head.

    It always feels strange how close that era is to the present. It is a living memory in many old people still around. The past lingers on for quite a while before becoming mere history.

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