To the Editor:
David S. Reynolds refers to John Brown as a “forward-thinking man dedicated to the freedom and political participation of African-Americans.” This is indeed true; Brown had laudable goals. In fact, our society could benefit from his thinking today: he would likely be outraged with the gross underrepresentation of African-Americans in both houses of Congress.
His noble ideals, however, do not excuse his methods. Brown fought fire with fire. Our political system thrives on radical ideas; the spirit of democracy rests upon pushing boundaries with our thought. Brown’s violence in the Pottawatomie Massacre and in the Harpers Ferry raid, however, perpetuated more problems than it resolved. As Tony Horwitz points out about the raid, “No slaves won their freedom. The first civilian casualty was a free black railroad worker, shot in the back while fleeing the raiders.” As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of Brown’s hanging, we can applaud and thank him for his fierce conviction of belief, but we cannot celebrate his rash and unproductive actions.