Five Black men who rode with John Brown

Herb Boyd | 10/17/2013, 11:25 a.m.
Few Americans were as devout and determined to end slavery in this country as John Brown
Shields Green awaiting trial

Anderson was the only Black survivor and eventually made his way back to Canada, where, with the assistance of Mary Shadd, he wrote his remarkable story about the raid, called “A Voice from Harper’s Ferry.” Later, he would return to the States and volunteer as a soldier for the Union.

Copeland and Green were both executed along with Brown, and like their fearless leader, they died with dignity.

Leary’s widow married Charles Langston, the brother of John Mercer Langston, the first Black elected official in the nation. Mary Leary would become the grandmother of Langston Hughes, and as you can see, he was named after his grandfather’s surname.

When Du Bois wrote his book on Brown in 1909, it was 50 years after Brown’s death, and Du Bois closed his account with a quote from Brown before he went to the gallows.

“You had better … prepare yourselves for a settlement of this question,” Brown warned the slaveholders. “It must come up for settlement sooner than you are prepared for it, and the sooner you commence that preparation, the better for you. You may dispose of me very easily—I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled—this Negro question, I mean. The end of that is not yet.”

And John Brown’s final words are no less prophetic and heedful today as they were in the moments before his life was snatched from him.


  • Find out more: Much more needs to be known about John Brown and his vision, and why the Black men and others who rode with him believed so passionately in his quest. Obviously, he was a man possessed of great charisma, but we need to understand the details of his plans after taking the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry.
  • Discussion: Any discussion about Brown is connected to a better overall understanding of the Black men. Were they ever in doubt of the plan? What were some of their hopes and dreams if the raid had been successful? How did their families feel about what they were doing?
  • PLace in context: When Brown launched his raid in 1859, it was nine years after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act, which meant it was open season on runaway slaves, even if they thought they were safe in the North. The raid occurred five years after Brown’s fight for the emancipation of slaves in Kansas, so further combat from him should not have come as a surprise to his enemies.

This Week in Black History

  • Oct. 16, 1995: Minister Louis Farrakhan leads an assembly of a reported 2 million people at the Million Man March in Washington, D.C.
  • Oct. 19, 1943: The great actor, singer, political activist and humanitarian Paul Robeson debuts as Othello at the Shubert Theater in New York City.
  • Oct. 21, 1917: Trumpeter John Birks Gillespie, known to the world as “Dizzy,” is born in Cheraw, S.C.