Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown's Army

Almost everyone has heard of John Brown and his raid on Harpers Ferry, but I would suspect that the majority do not know that his small raiding party included five African American men, let alone name them. 

Free men of color Dangerfield Newby, John Anthony Copeland, Lewis Sheridan Leary, and Osborne Perry Anderson, along with fugitive slave Shields Green, all knowingly risked their lives as participants in the raid. Only Osborne Anderson would escape with his life. Newby was the first raider killed. Leary was also killed in the fighting. John Copeland and Shields Green were both captured, jailed, tried, and then hanged on December 16, 1859 in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia). 

In this book, journalist Eugene Meyer vividly gives the historical background of these men, their roles in the raid, and how they have been remembered (or more accurately, forgotten) since the raid. Although Anderson published a short account of the raid titled "A Voice from Harper's Ferry" in 1861, and a biography of Copeland came out in 2015, the African American raiders' stories have by and large been ignored in favor of John Brown biographies and studies. And while the well known Brown studies include mention of the black raiders, they do not usually receive the coverage their actions deserve. 

Meyer's journalistic talents add a nice touch to the book, especially when he covers the stories of descendants of the black raiders, the centennial commemoration of John Brown's raid and the Heyward Shepherd monument, and the history of Storer College. Another impressive part of the work was the author's description of the genealogy of raider Newby. 

This book is important because it puts these active agents of change prominently back into the story of Harpers Ferry, one which they helped make in the first place. They all had different backgrounds, but they all had the goals of abolishing slavery and gaining citizenship and equality in common. Of the five men covered in the book, only Anderson would live to see the goal of slavery's end accomplished. However, their descendants, and others they inspired through their efforts, helped blaze the trail toward the other. I eagerly recommend it.

No comments:

Post a Comment