You Be White, I’ll Be Colored

“Tragic Prelude” by John Steuart Curry

Let’s play a game.  Come on, it’ll be fun.  Well, maybe not fun, but definitely educational.  Here’s how it goes.  You be “white” and I’ll be… hmm… for lack of a better catchall term, I’ll be “colored.”  Let’s say you are a free white person. You live on a small plot of  fruitful land passed down to you by your ancestors and you have five children who are beautiful, healthy little replicas of yourself and your lovely spouse.  Look at the oldest one over there with his dazzling blue eyes.  My he’s handsome.  And so sturdily built, too. Bear with me now, this is where it starts getting educational.

I, and a whole lot of my colored neighbors and friends have decided that you just don’t deserve any of the rights or freedoms we have.  And it’s not just us.  Our colored ministers, politicians, soldiers and civic leaders agree.  Why, some are even saying that you, white person, are not really even a human being.
It is too bad that you have no weapons or laws to protect you, but, not to worry, we will feed you and clothe you and all you have to do in return is… well… whatever you are told.

Oh, look there.  The ten-year-old blonde girl with the long legs and nice teeth.  Is that your daughter?  She is quite the attractive one, isn’t she?  Would you mind terribly if  I give her as a Christmas gift to my 280-pound cousin Roscoe who has not had sex, or a bath, in quite a long time?

Oh, my apologies, did I take the game a bit too far? Well, fortunately the game is over and you win! You see, due to the sacrifices of thousands of Americans who did not believe US chattel slavery was right, the institution was abolished nearly 150 years ago.

May 9th was John Brown’s birthday.  For those who’ve never heard of him, John was a white American who would have plotted, schemed, fought, killed and died to make sure the above mentioned blonde girl (or any other human being) was never anyone’s slave.

Though most white historians have painted him as a radical, maniacal, fanatical, bloodthirsty traitor, if John had fought and died to free their children from the chains of slavery, he surely would have been painted in a more “courageous” light.

After spending his entire adult life actively working against slavery, in 1837, in response to the murder of abolitionist newspaper editor Elijah P. Lovejoy, John Brown publicly vowed:

“Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!”

Dissatisfied with the pacifism encouraged by the organized abolitionist movement,  Brown was quoted to have said

“These men are all talk. What we need is action – action!”

On October 16, 1859 Brown and 21 men (5 black, 16 white) captured the federal armory and arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia with plans to organize and arm an insurrection. The local militia responded and besieged Brown and his men. One of Brown’s sons emerged waving a white flag to negotiate a surrender, and was shot and killed.  News of the battle reached President Buchanan, and Colonel Robert E. Lee was dispatched to the scene. Lee’s men quickly ended the insurrection leaving ten of Brown’s men dead (including two of Brown’s sons).

Seriously wounded and unrepentant, Brown was taken to Charlestown, quickly tried, sentenced, then executed. During his trial, he said this to the presiding judge and jury:

“I see a book kissed which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament, which teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do unto me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me further to remember them that are in bonds as bound with them. I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say that I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done, as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, I did no wrong, but right. Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel and unjust enactments, I say, let it be done.”

John Brown was hanged December 2nd, 1859.

Frederick Douglas later wrote of him:

“John Brown began the war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic. His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine. Mine was as the taper light; his was as the burning sun. I could live for the slave; John Brown could die for him.”

For more information about this great American antiracist hero read:

Henry David Thoreau’s A Plea for John Brown < HIGHLY RECOMMENDED READ!
Karen Whitman’s Re-evaluating John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry
Victor Hugo’s Letter to the London News regarding John Brown
John Brown’s letters for the years 1833 thru 1859
Wikipedia’s John Brown

 “[John Brown is] that new saint, than whom none purer or more brave was ever led by love of men into conflict and death,–the new saint awaiting his martyrdom, and who, if he shall suffer, will make the gallows glorious like the cross.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his lecture “Courage,” delivered in Boston on Nov. 8, 1859


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