Three who died so others could enjoy freedom from hatred

Published 6:02 pm Tuesday, February 6, 2018

We all know about the sacrifice that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, made during his life so that others, regardless of their race, could be emancipated from their ethnocentrism and hatred of others.

In 1968, King, endowed with the belief that all men are created equal, made the ultimate sacrifice in Memphis, Tennessee, when he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet. Some have called him a modern-day prophet. However, his critics have called him a communist, a public enemy and even traitor. We honor him each year in classrooms, churches and communities around America, as one of this country’s greatest heroes.

Nat Turner, considered

weird, even today

Nat Turner believed that he had been called by God to do something important against the institution of slavery. Nat was indeed strange. Some slaves were afraid of him. You would have to be afraid of a slave who would successfully run away from a plantation and return. Believing in signs and hearing divine voices, he thought that a February 1831 solar eclipse was a sign from God for him to take a stance against the institution of slavery.

Thinking that God would protect him and that his actions were providentially approved, on Aug. 21, 1831, Turner led a violent rebellion, killing more than 55 slave owners, their wives and children. The chaos ended with his death in a town called, of all places, Jerusalem, Virginia. Nat Turner felt that the eclipse was a sign from God for him to strike a significant blow to slavery. The reality is that the eclipse was going to occur anyway.

But back to John Brown. Novelist Bruce Olds (Raising Holy Hell: A Novel of John Brown, 1996), described Brown as fanatical, monomaniacal, a zealot and psychologically unbalanced. Because Brown was on the opposing side of slavery, southerners and some northerners after his attack on Harpers Ferry called him a terrorist that needed to be exterminated as an example to others who might be similarly disposed.

John Brown, the so-called American terrorist

These unflattering labels were immaterial to Brown who practiced and advocated armed insurrection to end all slavery. Here was a man that had declared bankruptcy at age 42, with more than 20 lawsuits against him, in the face of unimaginable financial ruination proselytizing to anyone who would listen that to enslave another human being was against God’s will. In fact, in and around 1855 Brown and his sons moved to Kansas shortly after the debate over the expansion of slavery in the territory, pursuant to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Shortly afterwards, Brown, with four of his sons and two accomplices murdered five pro-slavery settlers. Justifying his actions as being obedient to the will of God, Brown quickly became a hero in the eyes of northern extremists and was quick to capitalize on his growing reputation.

Believing that he was acting in alignment with God’s wishes, Brown in early 1859, rented a farm near Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) to plan an attack against the institution of slavery that would have unintended consequences in contributing to the Civil War.

On Oct. 16, 1859, Brown and his motley group of 21 followers successfully took control of the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry.

He was defeated and captured by a company of soldiers commanded by Col. Robert E. Lee. As he was being led to his execution, he paused to kiss a black child.

Brown’s actions at Harpers Ferry certainly are deserving of his being considered and remembered as an unlikely, and oftentimes forgotten, Civil Rights hero who sacrificed his life, in the name of God, so that others could be free.

Dr. Glenn Dowell is an author and columnist who currently lives in Jonesboro, Georgia. He has been a guest speaker on major college campuses , including having appeared on TV programs such as the Oprah Winfrey Show. He may be reached at