Adirondack Life contributor and independent scholar Amy Godine is set to track the history of pilgrimages to abolitionist John Brown’s North Elba grave and home, with an emphasis on the yearly visits of the John Brown Memorial Association from Philadelphia and the exclusionary Lake Placid Club.
From 1922 into the 1970s, black activists gathered at Brown’s shrine to honor his May birthday with speeches, sermons, and song. People in Lake Placid participated too, spurning the segregationist culture of the Jim Crow era. Of special interest to Godine is the complicated relationship of the black city pilgrims with the notoriously exclusionary Lake Placid Club.
Godine says she wondered if a shared regard for John Brown’s memory carved out the patch of common ground between these groups that helped sustain an unprecedented interracial event? And would this common ground prove to be a kind of a treacherous mirage, when John Brown meant one thing to black advocates for racial equality and civil rights, and something very different to a white patrician elite?
In the early years especially, the John Brown Memorial Association could be counted on to bring up speakers of national renown, among them the courtroom celebrity Clarence Darrow, the John Brown biographer and NAACP stalwart Oswald Garrison Villard, and the civil rights advocate, socialist and labor organizer A. Philip Randolph.
Godine says the tone and goals of this annual pilgrimage shifted and softened over the next half century, and failed to keep pace with the burgeoning civil rights movement. Attendance waned. The sense of urgency subsided. She’ll address what had changed at her talk at John Brown Farm State Historic Site near Lake Placid on Tuesday, July 23rd at 5:30 pm.
This free and open to the public event is hosted by John Brown Lives!
Illustration of John Brown provided by John Brown Lives!
A version of this article first appeared on the Adirondack Almanack.