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Birthday Celebration to Focus on Abolitionist John Brown

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
June 8th, 2009

The WVU Libraries will mark the state’s founding by focusing on abolitionist John Brown in a June 19 event in the Downtown Campus Library.

This year is the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry. On Oct. 16, 1859, Brown and a band of followers seized control of the Harpers Ferry Armory in a plot to build an army to overthrow the South and free the slaves.

John Brown
John Brown on trial. Sketch by David Hunter Strother.

“John Brown’s Raid is one of the most poignant events in American history,” said John Cuthbert, curator of the West Virginia and Regional History Collection. “Perhaps more than any other single act, it led to the outbreak of the Civil War. John Brown has been cited as the person who contributed more than any other to the start of the Civil War.”

A speaker and exhibit will help attendees better understand the abolitionist, his actions, and the complexities of the issues that divided a nation.

Activities begin at 9:30 a.m. with a reception in the Milano Reading Room. At 10 a.m., Paul Finkelman, a professor at Albany Law School and a specialist in American legal history, race, slavery, and the law, will talk about legal issues and public sentiment surrounding Brown’s trial. Finkelman, an often-cited legal historian, has authored more than 100 articles and 20 books, including “His Soul Goes Marching on: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid.”

There will be a question-and-answer period following Finkelman’s presentation.

At noon, an exhibit focusing on David Hunter Strother’s sketches of Brown’s Raid and the aftermath opens in the J. Hornor Davis Family Galleries on the sixth floor of the Wise Library. The 2009 West Virginia Day posters will be distributed at that time to all present.

Strother was one of the most outstanding primary resources in terms of eyewitness accounts. Arriving in Harpers Ferry within 36 hours of the raid, Strother saw Brown and some of his co-conspirators lying wounded on the floor of a makeshift jail, before they received medical attention.

Even before authorities had the chance to extensively question Brown, Strother talked with him about his failed plot. Strother also made many sketches of Brown and co-conspirators at that time and then later during Brown’s trial and execution.

“David Hunter Strother was a gifted writer and a gifted artist,” Cuthbert said. “If you wanted to find one person to document what happened there, I don’t think you could find a better person than Strother.”

All events are open to the public.

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