john-brown.jpgLake Placid, NY - 150 years ago, abolitionist John Brown was condemned to death by hanging, an action that would lead to his ultimate burial at his farm just outside the village of Lake Placid, NY. His last speech at the trial, and his many letters sent over the next four weeks until his execution at the Charlestown (WV) gallows, gave him an opportunity to articulate his vision, his reasons for his actions, and turned him from a man facing death for treason to a martyr dying to end slavery. At least 618,000 Americans were to die in the coming deadliest war in American history. What the Civil War did not do was end slavery. Instead slavery is one of the fastest growing forms of human abuse that holds over 27 million captive in brutal conditions of forced labor, rape and beatings. In the United States alone, over 50,000 are estimated to be in bondage with the CIA estimating that between 14,500 to 17,500 are trafficked into this country every year, many of them teenagers and young children. A coalition of cultural and historical organizations plan to commemorate John Brown's life, death and burial with a symposium in Lake Placid on December 4 and 5 that will feature major scholars and activists brought to examine the ongoing influence of John Brown today, people like Maria Suarez who can speak to the horror of slavery in this country, she having been sold into slavery at age 16 and brutalized and raped for the next five years, a harrowing experience that proved to be only the beginning of the terrors ahead of her. The stage will be set by SUNY Plattsburgh professor, and director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism, and Inclusion, J.W. Wiley, who will use clips from contemporary documentary and feature films to reveal the broad context of racism in the era of Brown. Cornell professor Margaret Washington will speak to the Black experience as slave and freedom fighter in the 19th century leading up to the Civil War, and continuing the struggle against Jim Crow laws that for many created an even harsher situation. John Brown biographer and ordained minister the Reverend Dr. Louis DeCaro, Jr. will track Brown's spiritual journey and place him in the context of his time, a person far from the often described man who failed at everything including launching ill planned raid with no possible chance of success. Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves and author of "Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy", and Maria Suarez will speak to the reality and continued expansion of slavery today even though, just recently, outlawed by every nation in the world. Author Russell Banks, whose novel Cloudsplitter sparked renewed interest in and research about Brown, will lead a panel of people whose own actions have been influenced by Brown, people like Bernardine Dohrn, a co-founder of the Weather Underground who was on the FBI's Most Wanted List for over a decade, George Holmes, executive director of the Congress for Racial Equality and Alice Keesey Mecoy, Brown's great, great, great grand daughter along with Wiley, Washington and Bales. The symposium will be followed by a wreath laying at Brown's grave, a gospel concert and a shift to re-enactors who will bring John Brown's cortege home, first across Lake Champlain, then to Lie in State at the Essex County Courthouse as it did 150 years earlier, and then by wagon to his farm for a symbolic burial. "The majority of the raiders are buried next to John Brown," said John Brown Commemoration coordinator Naj Wikoff. "It is sacred ground. An integrated band gave their lives to end slavery. While slavery did not end, their spirit is very much marching and with us today. The reactions to them really holds up a mirror to our discomfort to aspects of our own culture, as well as to those we hold most dear." Artist residencies in public schools throughout the region, weekly symposiums about Gerrit Smith, the Underground railroad and segregation and slavery in the north, are taking place now through the Symposium that opens on December 4. For a schedule of events and further information:


Interviews with symposium participants are welcome. Contact Kimberly Reilly for more information: