John Brown


W.E.B. Du Bois


January 1, 1932

A singular contretemps has arisen at Harpers Ferry from the project of United Daughters of the Confederacy to erect a monument in memory of the slaves who remained faithful during the John Brown raid. According to their statement: “John Brown, a Connecticut abolitionist, with a criminal record behind him,” planned a raid to free the slaves, but “not a single slave joined the conspirators.” A boulder was accordingly put in place and dedicated and at its dedication, to the surprise of the colored world, Henry T. McDonald, the white President of colored Storer College, and the Reverend George F. Bragg, Jr., colored rector of the St. James Episcopal Church, Baltimore, took part.

During the exercises, white speakers condemned the Haitian Revolution, lauded the “black mammy,” and called John Brown crazy. It was a pro-slavery celebration and most, people will agree with the Editor of the Afro-American that it was disgraceful for the President of Storer College and Dr. Bragg to have any part in this travesty.

The boulder is ostensibly erected to the memory of a free Negro who was killed in the fight, and the inscription says:

This boulder is erected by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy as a memorial to Heyward Shepherd, exemplifying the character and faithfulness of thousands of Negroes who, under many temptations throughout subsequent years of war, so conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people, and an everlasting tribute to the best in both races.

The statement that no slave helped and fought with John Brown is historically incorrect and one is glad to remember that nearly two hundred thousand Negroes yielded to the “temptation” to fight against slavery in the Civil War and that most of them were former slaves.


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1932. “John Brown.” The Crisis 39 (1): 467.