John Brown Today

Louis DeCaro Jr.

John Brown Today is a podcast devoted to historical and contemporary themes relating to the abolitionist John Brown (1800-59), the controversial antislavery and antiracist freedom fighter. John Brown Today is hosted by Louis A. DeCaro Jr., a Brown biographer and researcher, the most prolific author on the John Brown theme since the abolitionist's death in 1859. John Brown Today engages a range of themes from history and biography to popular culture and other contemporary themes.
Explaining John Brown Correctly: A Conversation with Dan MorrisonMary Ellen Pleasant and "The Rule of Credible Evidence"The Voices of the Past: A Conversation with Ian Barford (Part 2)The Voices of the Past: A Conversation with Ian Barford (Part 1)Reading John Brown's "A Declaration of Liberty" (July 4, 1859)Father and SonJohn Brown Remembrance (2020)John Brown's Best Friend in the Twentieth CenturyHurrah For Old John Brown: The July 4th 1860 Meeting at John Brown's Farm & Grave
In this John Brown birthday episode, Lou presents a reflection upon the "reunion" meeting at John Brown's farm that took place on July 4, 1860,  before the Brown family sold the property and relocated to California three years later.  Based on an account published in William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator (July 27, 1860),  Lou reflects on this meeting--attended by as many as one thousand people--its leading spirits, its family significance, even the fact that Brown had both a grave mound and a grave marker.   As Lou points out, when this meeting took place,  only Brown was interred at the farm; the bodies of his sons Oliver and Watson, along with the bodies of many of his other Harper's Ferry raiders were not interred at the farm until  the last twenty years of the nineteenth century.  The July 4th 1860 meeting is a weighty and moving historical "snapshot"--the picture of a nation on the brink of civil conflict, a nation weighed down by injustice and the suffering of black millions at the hands of white supremacy, and the mediocrity of most of white society, including "moderate" anti-slavery people.  Quite in contrast the abolitionists stand out, and yet themselves are divided between pacifist "moral suasionists," and political abolitionists--militants who called for violence, and the significance of John Brown, buried beneath the fresh mound at North Elba, NY.   Yet, because of the ongoing struggle against racism, somehow the story of John Brown--in life and death--remains significant today, as it was in 1860.  This episode is introduced and closed by the wonderful song, "All the Brave Young Men," written and performed by Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino, known as Magpie.  You can find this song on Magpie's CD, "The Civil War: Songs & Stories Untold."  Also see Magpie's website at Magpiemusic.com.May 9, 2021 is John Brown's 221st birthday.  Hurrah for Old John Brown!
May 6 2021
53 mins
"God's Angry Men" RevisitedLetters and Friends: A Zoom Conversation with Margaret Washington!
In the first installment of a feature called "Letters and Friends," Lou meets (via zoom) with the wonderful scholar and author, Margaret Washington of Cornell University, author of a number of important works, especially Sojourner Truth's America (2009).   The conversation, built around a letter by John Brown to his wife, Mary, in January 1858 (transcribed in abbreviated form below because of space restrictions), reflects upon Brown, Douglass, as well as some interesting insights on Sojourner Truth. Listeners will enjoy getting to know a little about Margaret, her insights into the antebellum era abolitionist movement, and her thoughtful commentary on the John Brown letter. Please Note: Unfortunately, the internet was not smooth during the recording, so there are some unavoidable moments when the sound is challenged. Read the entire transcript here.-------Rochester N Y, 30,th Jany, 1858My Dear Wife & Children every one I am (praised be God) once more in [New] York State. Whether I shall be permitted to visit you or not this Winter or Spring I cannot now say; but it is some relief of mind to feel that I am again so near you Possibly; if I cannot go to see you; that I may be able to devise some way for some one, or more of you to meet meet me some -where. The anxiety I feel to see my Wife; & children once more; I am unable to describe. I want exceedingly to see my big Baby; & “Mums Baby”: & to see how that little company of Sheep look about this time. . . .But courage Courage Courage the great work of my life  ( the unseen Hand that “girded me; & who has indeed holden my right hand; may hold it still though I have not known Him”; at all as I ought) . . .O my Daughter Ruth could any plan be devised whereby you could let Henry go “to School” (as you expressed it in your letter to him while in Kansas;) I would rather now have him “for another term”; than to have a Hundred average scholars. I have a particular & very important; but not dangerous place for him to fill; in the “school”; & I know of no man living; so well adapted to fill it. I am quite confident some way can be devised; so that you; & your children could be with him; & be quite happy even; & safe but “God forbid” me to flatter you into trouble. I did not do it before. . . . I want to hear from you all if possible before I leave this neighborhood. Do not noise it about; that I am in these parts; & direct to N Hawkins; Care of Fredk Douglas Esqr Rochester NY. I want to hear how you all are supplied with Winter clothing, Boots, &c. God bless you allYour Affectionate Husband & Father [postscript in the hand of Frederick Douglass:] My dear Friends:Your brave husband and father is now my guest-and has been since Thursday of this week. Gladly indeed we hailed him, and joyfully we entertain him. It does not seem safe-or desirable for him to come to you just now-though he could most gladly do so. I shall retain him here as long as he desires to remain and would be glad for yo you to meet him here.I remember with pleasure the pleasant moments spent under your roof-and take know no small satisfaction in the thought of your Friendship. I shall be truly glad to see either of you or both of you at my house-at any time during Capt Brown’s stay-Fred. Douglass-
Mar 27 2021
50 mins
"Never Tell It": John Brown and the Masonic LodgeZooming John Brown: A Visit with Terry Leonino & Greg Artzner of Magpie
In this episode, Lou pays a zoom visit to the award-winning folk musicians and activists Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner, the duo known as Magpie. Since 1973, Terry and Greg have brought their unique sound and remarkable versatility to audiences everywhere, featuring traditional and vintage Americana to contemporary and stirring original compositions.   With two strong voices in harmony and superb instrumental arrangements, their sound is powerful and moving.   Award-winning recording artists, singers, songwriters, musical historians, playwrights, actors and social activists, Terry and Greg are proud to be, as Pete Seeger said of them, “…more links in the chain”, dedicating their lives and music to leaving this world a better place.Terry and Greg have a particular love for John Brown that has given birth to both a play and to a lot of great music.  In the play, "Sword of the Spirit," they dramatize the loving and devoted relationship of John and Mary Brown. In Magpie's related CD, "Sword of the Spirit," they explore many themes of this epic story in songs ranging from the themes of Brown and his family to Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.In this interview, Terry and Greg reflect upon their lives and influences, their work on John Brown and other progressive platforms, and the nature of their art as a labor of love in making the story of Brown accessible to the public.  As Magpie, they also perform three songs from their own John Brown repertoire.   So sit back and enjoy a visit with Magpie. . . .
Feb 24 2021
56 mins
All Their John Browns (With Some Lincoln Birthday Fun)Pulled Back In: America’s Good Terrorist and the Mind of Old Virginia--A ReviewJohn Brown's Bankruptcy BookshelfCatch Him if You Can: The True Story of Alexander Ross, John Brown’s Fraudulent “Friend”
One of the most incredible stories related to John Brown that really is not about him is the story of Alexander Milton Ross, a Canadian public figure of the nineteenth century. Ross was most widely known and celebrated in the later nineteenth century because of his antislavery activities and his reputation as a leading abolitionist figure prior to and during the Civil War. However, Ross was a fraud--at least as far as his claims to have been a close associate of John Brown, and probably as one familiar with Abraham Lincoln, a claim he also made.  Ross not only made an extended, false claim of having been a colleague of Brown, but wrote an autobiographical profile, Recollections and Experiences of An Abolitionist  (here is a link to the very successful second edition, widely celebrated)  in which he invented letters from Brown. To reinforce his deception, Ross went on to initiate a long and successful correspondence with some of Brown's adult children that cemented his reputation.  Ross was never exposed as a fraud until the mid-twentieth century by Boyd B. Stutler, the "godfather" of John Brown scholars.  Stutler sniffed out Ross as a fraud and laid the groundwork in his correspondence, but never published anything beyond what he had written in correspondence with scholars. In this episode, Lou builds on Stutler's findings, adding insight from Ross's correspondence with the Browns, documents not available to Stutler when he was active in the twentieth century.  Ross was one of Brown's most enthusiastic defenders and was widely accepted by Brown's admirers. But his story was that of an amazing fraud--one that slipped away from this life without being caught.*This episode is based on a longer chapter that Lou did some years back for a little self-published collection, John Brown: The Man Who Lived (2008) which is no longer in print.   A transcript of this version is available on the John Brown Today blog using this link.
Jan 10 2021
25 mins
"Emperor" Shields Green--A Hollywood Movie and My Book Too"What Was John Brown Like?" A Biographer's Deep DiveThe Fool as Biographer: Otto Scott and "The Secret Six"
Dec 12 2020
26 mins