Sunday, May 7, 2023

John Brown Lives to host May 9, 13 events dedicated to Russell Banks

Westport, NY — Three events on May 9 and May 13 will commemorate Black freedom and abolitionist history in the Adirondacks, connect our history with current human rights issues, and celebrate artists and the arts that bring us into meaningful conversation with our past and with one another. The birthday of abolitionist John Brown will be observed on Tuesday afternoon, May 9, with the unveiling of A Memorial Field with Ren Davidson Seward at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site. Later that evening, choreographer Tiffany Rea-Fisher will screen her dance film,
Geography of Grace, at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

Inspired by the 1846 “scheme of justice and benevolence” to secure voting rights for Black men in New York State, Geography of Grace was filmed on site at the historic Brown family homestead. A conversation with Rea-Fisher, filmmaker Moti Margolin, and Martha Swan, Executive Director of John Brown Lives! will precede the screening. A reception in the lobby will follow.


“Both Tiffany and Ren are Creatives Rebuild New York-funded artist-collaborators working with John Brown Lives! whose truth-telling art is imbued with compassion and love,” said Swan. “Working together has been a joyful answer to our prayers.”


John Brown Day:
John Brown Day 2023 on Saturday, May 13 will be dedicated to the award-winning novelist Russell Banks who died in January of this year. It was Bank’s 1998 novel, Cloudsplitter, that revived popular interest in John Brown. It was Banks, with the late Noel Ignatiev and others, who sounded the call in 1999 to “those who share the vision of a country without racial walls” to gather at the John Brown Farm to renew the abolitionist’s legacy.


The tradition of pilgrimage to lay a wreath on Brown’s grave was started in 1922 by Black Philadelphians Dr. Jesse Max Barber and Dr. T. Spotuas Burwell to honor, as Barber put it, “This great friend of the race.” Every May, well into the 1980s, groups organized by the John Brown Memorials Association (JBMA) traveled from Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, and elsewhere to the Brown family homestead to keep Brown’s memory alive.


“It’s not an exaggeration to say that Russell revived John Brown Day on May 9, 1999, after a decade or more had lapsed since the last organized pilgrimage,” said Swan. “When we gather this year, he will be in our collective hearts, with love and gratitude and a sense of profound loss, too.”


All three events are open to the public and free of charge.

• A Memorial Field Unveiling, 5 to 6 p.m., at the John Brown Farm, 115 John Brown Road
• Geography of Grace Screening, Conversation & Reception, 6:30 p.m. at Lake Placid Center for the Arts, 17 Algonquin Drive
• John Brown Day 2023, 2 to 4 p.m. at the John Brown Farm, followed by a ticketed reception from 5 to 7 p.m. at Cascade Welcome Center, 4833 Cascade Road/Route 73. Reception tickets: $40 per person.

For more information or to reserve reception tickets, email or call (518) 744-7112.


John Brown Lives! (JBL!) is a non-profit freedom education and human rights project that brings communities together using history, education, advocacy, and the arts to address critical issues of our time. The official NYS Friends Group of the John Brown Farm State Historic Site, JBL! strives for the Farm to be recognized, supported, and visited as a site of conscience and a place for teaching, reflection, discovery, and dialogue for Adirondack residents and visitors of all ages.


Photo at top provided by Martha Swan, Founder and Executive Director, John Brown Lives!

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