Forgotten Founding Fathers

LOVE this article from WHYY Philadelphia about the New Freedom Theatre’s play Forgotten Founding Fathers, a rap and hip-hop performance about the US’ unsung Black heroes, and the recent meeting between the great-grandsons of Frederick Douglass and John Brown organized by the theatre. I was amazed to learn that when Brown was famously hanged for treason he was wearing a pocket watch Douglass had given him. Brown’s great-grandson recently returned the heirloom to Douglass’ great-grandson.

Douglass refused to finance or participate in John Brown’s raid, which was intended to spark an armed slave revolution, but later celebrated Brown as a martyr and said Brown’s attack had been a “thunder clap” to awaken Americans to the fact that the time for compromises was gone, and that it was time to take up arms (meaning join the Union army) to end slavery. Henry David Thoreau was also an ardent defender of John Brown.

One thing not mentioned in the article, and I daresay I’m the first to make the direct connection through my own archival research in India, is that Brown and Douglass and people whom they inspired would, decades later, serve as direct inspirations to armed Indian revolutionaries fighting the British Raj in Calcutta starting in 1908.

If you want a glimpse of that history and the John Brown connection, it’s in my critical commentary in the latest issue of peer-reviewed academic journal Democratic Communiqué at .

It’s only one slice of a much larger story I’ve written. I’m not condoning or condemning revolutionary violence. We all have our positions on that, usually on a case-by-case basis, and that’s okay. I’m eager to shine a light on this history. More to come.

PS – there are a couple of minor errors in the WHYY article; it’s Crispus Attucks, not Crispin, and Brown was executed in 1859, not 1857.

Daddy, Who’s Grover Cleveland?

If you’re all about the Gilded Age (hey, some of us are), please enjoy my latest book review in the Brooklyn Rail‘s 10th anniversary issue.

Charles W. Calhoun
From Bloody Shirt to Full Dinner Pail: The Transformation of Politics and Governance in the Gilded Age
(Hill and Wang, 2010)

The phrase “Gilded Age” started as a satirical term co-coined by Mark Twain and co-opted from Shakespeare in 1873. It was an apt description of the post-Civil War United States. The increase in industry and modernization, the ostentatiousness of high profile wealth, and extremely high voter turnout made our culture look as good as gold on the outside even while it festered on the inside. Greed and rampant get-rich-quick schemes were the norms of the day. Political partisanship and sectionalism were at their egg-throwing worst. Bloody injustices were perpetrated almost daily against newly freed slaves in the South, and increasingly against striking factory workers in the North. Three presidents were assassinated.

For the serious student of U.S. history or political science, Charles W. MY FULL REVIEW CONT’D AT THE BROOKLYN RAIL>>