John Brown (Reynolds, 2005)

David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), x.
John Brown planted the seeds for the civil rights movement by making a pioneering demand for compete social and political equality for America's ethnic minorities. To be sure, many other Americans have contributed to civil rights. But only one white reformer lived continuously among blacks, penned a revised American constitution awarding them full rights, and gave his life in a violent effort to liberate the slaves. That's why the Second Niagara Movement (which became the NAACP), the forerunner of the civil rights movement, hailed Brown as one "who had no predecessors, and can have no successors." And that's why no other white person in American history has been more beloved over time among African Americans than John Brown.

It may be discomfiting to think that some of America's greatest social liberties sprang in part from a man who can be viewed as a terrorist. But John Brown was a man not only of violence but of eloquence and firmness of principle. His widely reprinted declarations against slavery impressed the intellectual leaders Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said Brown's speech to Virginia court was as great as the Gettysburg Address, and Henry David Thoreau, who declared that Brown's words were more powerful than his rifles.
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