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during the week things that were reviewing story list are in the nose is as fictional like that i wanted to as an emblematic singing because i want to try through it through dramatize brooms fundamental on but acceptance of a principled violence so i'm going to just a political story we're doing okay you're literally out what what it what it basically is meant to do for me is what the place is to is to
dramatize his is acceptance of the way that either the normalcy of principled while it's on a domestic oil and dealing between parents and children and then by extension you see how our understand perhaps more clearly how one can move out from the family into the larger world and applied principal violence this is an old american tradition after all principled violence and gun violence in the service of principles it's quite different from self defense violence and services firms are rows and services simple aggression are in the service of a territory or the interests of acquiring territory its principal violence that we see today in the extreme by an anti abortion rights and so forth and i see all kinds of all of
many aspects of call for her life but it if it leads us are i hope it can lead us to understand more clearly the most controversy oh event and brown's life which is the pot a lot of a massacre in which is usually presented i think as a an anomaly a puzzling or anomaly or one which allows them biographers in an unknown those who approached brown's life with with with less than generous impulse is to dismiss it out of hand and you what i think instead we have to do with the pot a lot of the massacre is so they see it as a step in a long progression of steps that began as an activist and a beginning idealism and an uncommon become adapted and activism and crimes against property
which after all is what writing underground railroad was if you were at the slaves were property and stealing are escorting slaves into canada was was a crime against property as much as if you're taking a man's horse and escorting it i'm siggins violence against other human beings says in kansas girl awards to terrorism as in part a watery and even to martyrdom is certainly isn't a big division of harper's ferry a person moves from one stage to the next because they're programmed to and it'll become a terrorist out of the blue by the border terrorist are really so you might end up being used by other terrorists if you're psychotic enough to have been born or butt butt but generally it's it's a series of steps which are taken because at each stage of that progression you're met with such a non negotiating minute thing
opposition total blockage that you can only up the ante or you have to back away defeated and i think we you know we see the terrorism he appearing in modern times certainly in exactly those contexts exactly those terms and brown was no different here again we have to imagine his time without the capstone of the civil war in front of him he didn't know it was coming so that each stage along the way it looked to him like the defining one and john scott is a defining kansas is the moment when pardo army occurs wonder when he when he deliberately consciously slaves of the most brutal fashion five they weren't exactly innocent but certainly they were combatants five non combatants and the pro pro slave side
is done that's surely true as an act of terrorism designed to two re orchestrate the the the issues and the terms of the of the fight just as it's about to be settled and kansas probably in the favor of the pro slavery is annette changed kansas dramatically that event really really turned kansas into bloody kansas and known more than any other single event like that and i think he did it with the conscious intent of the most the spirit kind of frustration is doesn't mean to condone it any more than i would condone a car bombing in belfast or oil or jerusalem but i i do mean to say that that there is a context there was a progression and one which is not easily accessible to us we have to take a leap and imaginative leap into his time and his and see the world as he saw it
this makes your traditional image by political genius to be able to re create that that moment that changes through some ways apart what a massacre was mortifying and then numbers that artist jeremy was a crucial turning point had a chance to settle down at that point in an in kansas so they come in as a slave state things would've been very different but it really really shook shook up she really shook up with that with part one man and then they are getting royalty into battle again and finally and kansas can honestly as a free steak that was it was actually crucial i don't know that he was a military genius by any means he was it was a brilliant intuitive move if you're looking at it with hindsight if you in his case i think that it was it was in response to
two extraordinary frustration and despair i really think he was like samson tractable than the temple and that it was nothing they felt was nothing else for that and i don't it was a strategic move in that sense he was an act of extreme frustration and pain and sense of having lost the day are about to lose the day and he knows it was really picked on the evening of lead the beating of summer there was a collision of events a writer on that for a forty eight hour period that preceded apollo eight massacre that just enraged frustrate if you could knock down in an engine put into a coma she could fractured the skull of the floors of congress and the leader of the the elected leader of the senator from massachusetts elected leader of the anti slavery forces in washington that if you could do that with me perry appeared impunity
that it was all over it was all the days been lost and i think at that period you know making fifty seven so it looked pretty bleak brown out there and points of kansas and so from his point of view piece was being made by compromises and speculators and people who are more interested in a land and money than they were in four million slaves and their descendents listen this is just you know there is a really good because because this is
ulysses ms morrow life but those interesting in her degree is it to be effective and influenced his decisions think for brown eyes from mossad the idealist but was an activist as committed his life to activists news service of principles ideals and there was an inescapable conflict between his desires to him to act on his principles in a totally committed way on the one hand and his responsibilities as a father a husband as others as a man in the world on the other and i think one of his motives for trying to get rich quick and the aching thirties
particularly well and it's a year afterwards so consumed him in the eighty and forties and fifties one of his motives i think was simply to select to win the lottery so i'm free to go about my moral business and how they would liberate him in a way too too too to follow on to do the lord's work as he saw it it was a simply to live grandly i don't think brown ever imagined living in a grander than he lived but but rather to liberate him to devote all his time to arm to doing the lord's work is say or to do that i think frustrated him and forced him to have to lead a very divided life for most of the rest of his life between now and his attempts to pay off his debts and ammo scramble really scramble scuffling scrambling the two were
to just feed his family to care so on the one hand in hand and continue to do as much as possible in the interests of the year and the lord's interests as he was doing it was it must have been a very ongoing nagging painful conflict for him and forced him into humiliating circumstances i think forced into borrowing living in many ways some on the edge open and accepting gifts and in the generosity of others to me that he had to depend upon the kindness not as strangers but of the wealthy men in ways that i think must have gotten and i'm drawing even more
recklessly perhaps into a scheme sin don't like to the great deal will cooperate of scheme and the attempt to sell will in england and undercut the american men cost manufacturers in new england a reckless and foolish schemes but i still think he was given to that because he was trying to get rich quick i think he was doing that because of this that for him inescapable conflict between his desire to have to do the lord's work as simple every day dictionary needs them as a father and husband was a man in the world there's so many things like that for which you know we tend to to call ourselves over and above when dealing with john brown's life the only the trouble he got into and hartford that with the young cattle deal was a cattle doing that
he ended up that looks like a pilfering money ran out of the uk the company have safe and the prominence it over a deed to a house or that he didn't really have the right to do that and a desperate measure i think was saddam was not driven by greed her financial ambition and it wasn't simply because he was sloppy or a man who cut his coiffed so whatever they are the circumstances of that time or but rather a man who felt that he was desperately conflicted and that he was his life was going down the thomson illinois that there was a frustratingly unfair as financial reasons when i might be imagining you're projecting but that but it's when you get close to the details are put in an inn close to the the daily life that you
think you can see it more sympathetically than he's been betrayed i think it's strong interesting and it's easy for us to say how you should help how honestly he should have been but we're always talking about small doing a couple hundred dollars here a couple hundred dollars there to gets always caught he's always getting into trouble i mean it is this is getting older you with much as it's just to get by just to get to the next month and and we have to remember you know this is a man who was not burn from rome he was a working man he was not a man with any resources available to the old almost nothing lead it owed money to know each other he didn't own the land that his house was built on was given to him by
adam smith gareth smyth and so anyone that they were over there a smorgasbord and there were enormous gray still has some business the personality i love any other single minded obsessive dose of it was he fixed the goal of the ice cube he says relentless in pursuit of a good know whether it was built on an island an heiress is certainly some of those gains were the waltz gets it was built on there but it was it was also dislike indefatigable energy from the story of the browns
troops enough to waterloo so you can you can really ceo and try to understand the water was all about the napoleon's hundred days the martian appoint sandra day march from across of france to waterloo that that takes a kind of physical and mental energy that that was wonderful to think about at times it's a little frightening but wonderful to think about and i think he applied that same kind of energy to almost everything you did one of the things that that struck me when i when i get up close to the daily life of color from brown and his family and you know and neighbors and colleagues the was this simply the difficulties of travel sometimes we forget that and it was brown and zipping back and forth a serious if you look at the day by day up accounts of his travels from kansas to ohio to springfield mass to a
boston back up to north album that across to our akron ohio than did after chicago and up to canada and then down and he says all have to get their annual as well much the time he walked he took canal boats he rode horses he wrote about board slow arduous travel but that took enormous energy is a man in his fifties doing this stuff and fifteen your fifties and eighteen fifties was to be an old man and then call him the old man in derision because he looked peculiarly all is because bye bye the actuarial tables of the key fifties he was an old way of the amount of physical energy that could expand this astonishing subjects all right martin's
so it is a very different cities and somewhat americans were really this is for shopping actually i think that if you look at salem emerson's schedule when emerson was on the road delivering to says that his lectures building around the northeast in an outcome occasionally as far west as illinois the square is pretty desperate surprising to minister great to rewrite americans were traveling a lot more than we give them credit foreign minister by train by a wagon by horseback and by foot and canal boat that they were moving around with great energy and so it's really kind of interesting to have to see and surprising i think these tomato surprise in brussels
brown in years just since it's such an interesting in i just a smile and just walking through the streets of paris says it was two each must have looked so peculiar in europe with a characteristic stuff colored coat and battered straw hat for the war apparently famine that huck like face he really must have looked like the hair the cartoon american to the europeans and and and his so obliviousness as well a single mindedness that creates a kind of obliviousness physic as a corollary and i think that you know he is there is there to see at waterloo and figure out what what went wrong in the profits hundred day march and he doesn't really care much about anything else or no posters of holmes about the the beauty of the architecture i think
is so someone mentioned i can order and it was it was going nose and his older son john the oldest son mentioned that are done brown returned from european and lohr reports about the livestock and the superiority of american livestock to european allies pigs in particular it looked that was what he was much more interested in in the livestock of europe and it was the architecture and the other cultural expressions the grounds of all of the underground railroad and gets a must have been the story live and the dangers of the thriller dance it begins is a volatile within the railroad begins in ohio susan those adolescents william through his father his father's associates and
bracelets up out of what's now west virginia and kentucky and into canada are just individual sometimes generally and yes and you feel are vetted the iss iss iss action on this is the means by which he can do the lord's work in an intimate and a hands on active meaningful way it's not just someplace than your understanding your feet and rage he puts his rage to work there must've been thrilling moment certainly is a classic sound authentic house of his sons who are impatient with him it's a continuing ongoing activity for him from all the way up to and including this residency in northfield it that some controversy owen and a local historian anne northup of
feels that i have others who have those who believe that but he was smuggling slaves through in northern alberta canada are wrong but i firmly believe he read it to the end of his family and who were involved in another abolitionists in the region are involved in smuggling slaves through the indian passed dollars that because of free him this is actor after the passage of fugitive slave law when they are the known routes up the champlain hudson the champlain valley in the east end up across an unknown and niagara in buffalo and canada in the west oh we're great and so carefully watched by slave catchers that they had to find alternate roads end and that route up to the adirondacks and hang out and i think was so it was an obvious one and the fact that brown was located fair and that
a settlement of world of for freedom perhaps us some escaped slaves as well was there of about fifty families it seems to me absolutely i'm young the logical to think that they wouldn't have been running slice through their but for him i think that it was that he had some ways through to his son plan and his attack on harpers ferry and i believe he saw the success of the underground a railroad with great clarity and he saw it as an economic event wasn't just a humanitarian event had an economic dimension and he often said i want a beleaguered south white enforce the entire labor because you know a black to work for slade and thousands and thousands of slaves were were fleeing the south through the underground railroad enough or that period the price of slaves simply
roads rows and rows and but it is but is working in the underground railroad and his understanding of it as an economic factor end by his understanding i think of the geography of the appalachian change going from tennessee all the way up into the adirondack mountains to canada which he learned to really through his work within a grower and we was going down into virginia from ohio and to the appalachians there an unknown and then in upstate new york and i'm living in truth of the plan to go to trigger not a gentle insurrection or harpers ferry but a long probably hoped would request a guerrilla war
which would be modeled on pm the room morrison in jamaica and the haitian revolution in haiti and also on the spartacus is war were by the slaves were downed wood did not rise up in a general insurrection but would be allowed dreamed out of fleece flatlands up into the mountains in the north called what the great subterranean pass what has what would create and had he acted on what seem to have been as his original plan which included really having frederick douglass at his side it might've succeeded at least for well the city would have had a different tone from the unknown and harpers ferry ride but with a with
douglas back at the last minute and with that particular planned seeming to be impossible for him with having no force larger than most twenty that score of young men go in with him martyrdom than was perhaps the only option he felt available to one of the great puzzles the two great puzzles for me with regard to john prentice when i began the book other than the overreaching puzzle question of who set the list was pie want me what really way behind that and the other was why did he stop and still stay in harpers ferry when he could've gotten out the first twenty four hours he could have gotten out to let the train go you still can go out we stayed stayed and seems to be to me
a deliberate resigned active martyred the final step on that progression that i was describing it begins and idealism and leads through crimes against property crimes against other human being violence against other human beings tourism in oregon i think he felt that was all that was left and then but his martyrdom gray says they had a darker in some ways deeper moral question one which troubles me still and that is it's one thing to martyr yourself it's another to martyr your son sees signs in la and those brave young man who'd fallen into harper's ferry knowing that they were risking their lives but not knowing if they were monitoring it made the decision for office and that that was really vets
American Experience
John Brown's Holy War
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Interview with author Russell Banks, 3 of 5
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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Martyr, madman, murderer, hero: John Brown remains one of history's most controversial and misunderstood figures. In the 1850s, he and his ragtag guerrilla group embarked on a righteous crusade against slavery that was based on religious faith -- yet carried out with shocking violence. His execution at Harpers Ferry sparked a chain of events that led to the Civil War. Banks talks about Violence - American tradition of principled violence, Pott., Pottawatomie - not born terrorists, must up the ante, Pottawatomie - context of progression, defining moments, Pottawatomie - turning point, Pottawatomie - not strategic, response to frustration & despair, Kansas - people interested in land & $, not slaves & descendants, Business - wanted $ so he could devote time to doing Lord's work, Business/Failure - had to live divided life, painful conflict, Failure - dependence on others humiliating, Business/Father - conflict b/t God's work, responsibility, Failure - life going down tubes, unfair, Failure - small debts enormous to him, Personality - obsessive, pursued goals relentlessly, Travel/Old Man - slow arduous travel, esp. for an old man, Europe - John Brown description, must've looked peculiar, Waterloo - single - mindedness of purpose there, Europe - reported on livestock (pigs) not culture, architecture, Underground RR - John Brown involved as adolescent in Ohio thru father, Underground RR - John Brown thrilled to act, do Lord's work, Underground RR - John Brown saw economic dimension, Plan/Douglass - would have been more successful w/ Douglass, Raid/Martyr - why did John Brown stay? deliberate act of martyrdom, Martyring Sons - morally difficult/ambiguous aspect of John Brown
Race and Ethnicity
American history, African Americans, civil rights, slavery, abolition
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Chicago: “American Experience; John Brown's Holy War; Interview with author Russell Banks, 3 of 5,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 30, 2020,
MLA: “American Experience; John Brown's Holy War; Interview with author Russell Banks, 3 of 5.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 30, 2020. <>.
APA: American Experience; John Brown's Holy War; Interview with author Russell Banks, 3 of 5. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from