A Biography of John Brown by WEB Dubois

The story of John Brown known to most of us but known by few of us, and to all of us will always be shrouded by mystery. The secrecy of the quiet but focused life of John Brown is both enigma and inspiration. There are bits of the story that shine through the shroud of history and are as relevant today as they were then. Captured in Dubois terse and brilliant language are three different but big ideas. The first is that what moved John Brown was simply the cries of pain of his brothers and sisters in chains. Perhaps the key to the whole matter of being truly alive and effecting change for the good, being citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven comes down to this- being able to recognize, feel and grieve over the pain of others.
A second is that Brown saw that the price of bondage was greater than the cost of freedom. This requires a capacity to recognize the worth of others and their contributions and potential outside of their benefit to us. This makes it possible for us to give ourselves for the sake of others. As we see each person of infinite worth and potential, we are driven to help because harm to them is too great a cost to bear. But the willingness to give our lives is not the loss of ourselves, it is the becoming of ourselves. By loving others, we become more than we are.

A third thought is that the trial of the Harper’s Ferry Raid, was not an indictment of John Brown, but of the system of slavery. That the raid could be God’s means of putting slavery on trial helps us to rethink those things that we call ‘failures’. All our efforts for good serve to shine a light on evil. Even those that done reach their aim. At the same time, all of efforts for good, will always be incomplete, as long as the human heart has propensity to take advantage of others. We may be discouraged from acting on behalf of others by thinking that the effects of our efforts are incomplete, or our goals impossible, but there is far better reason to do the good we ought.

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