Dr. William W. Sales, Associated Professor at Seton Hall University, speaks at the October 15th POP meeting
On Thursday, October 15, the day before the Sesquicentennial of the Raid on Harpers Ferry, the People's Organization for Progress acknowledged this important event in African American history with a presentation by Seton Hall Africana Studies professor, Dr. William Sales. Before discussing the Harpers Ferry Raid itself, or John Brown's participation, before explaining the history of the abolitionist movement that Brown came from and became one of the most significant representatives of, Professor Sales began outlining the history of slavery in the United States, and its unique role in creating the wealth that underwrites U.S. capitalism (click here to view a portion of Dr. Sales' speech).
Dr. Sales went on to explain what was unique about John Brown. While many abolitionists of the 1800s opposed slavery, viewing unpaid labor as unfair competition to small farmers because large plantations undercut the influence of homesteading by "free-soilers," John Brown opposed slavery because, in Dr. Sales words, he "loved Black people." He moved his family to settle among free Black families in the community known as Timbuctoo in North Elba, NY. This attitude made Capt. Brown unique among white abolitionists.
And while many 19th century abolitionists viewed battling slavery as a "moral calling," requiring prayer rather than action, Brown had learned in Kansas that the slavers had no qualms about employing violence and terror. Dr. Sales explained that Brown had gone to Kansas after hearing that his son's farm was under murderous attack by the border ruffians. These pro-slavery terrorists came across the border from the slave state of Missouri to try and insure that the Kansas also entered the Union as a slave state. (Later, during the Civil War, many of these same irregular troops joined the special "bushwhacker" units of Confederate Army that burned farms, terrorized civilians and after the war became backbone elements in the Ku Klux Klan.) Units like Quantrill's Raiders, carried out the shelling and burning of Lawrence during the Kansas border wars. Brown played a major role in building the free state resistance in Lawrence.
Dr. Sales explained that Brown became involved out of "a sense of family responsibility, yes, but …because John Brown went to Kansas and fought the bushwhacker terrorists… he slowed down a process by which Kansas was about to be engulfed by pro-slavery sentiment, and by slowing it down, when the Civil War broke out Kansas could come into the war as a free state, a very important intervention on his part."
One cannot understand Brown, Professor Sales added, without grasping why U.S. society needs to portray him as "crazy." Brown was feared because he represented a key thing that both the slaveowners and many whites in the abolitionist movement feared most, a white person who could identify and find true unity with African Americans.
Despite bad weather and limited advanced promotion in the media, this People's Organization for Progress celebration, The Sesquicentennial of the Harpers Ferry Raid and the Legacy of John Brown, drew a sizable crowd. Perhaps, some POP members speculated, word of mouth is more powerful than an "Upcoming Events" listing in the Star Ledger. Perhaps area academics assigning students to attend Dr. Sales' lecture or the use of so-called "new media" like blogs and Facebook by POP members made the difference. No matter the reason, the gathering left POP members and supporters demanding more. POP Chairman Lawrence Hamm has proposed that Dr. Sales return to another meeting simply to have the question-and-answer segment that, due to a lack of time, never occurred. (click here, to see additional photos from this event)
Professor Bill Sales with POP's chairman, Larry Hamm salute John Brown