09 January 2012

John Brown monument is out of public view, but never out of public controversy | McClatchy

By JIM CARNEY | Akron Beacon Journal
Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/01/09/135200/john-brown-monument-is-out-of.html#storylink=cpy

A monument to one of Akron's most important sons, and forever a controversial figure in American history, stands behind a locked fence and up a steep hill overlooking an Akron Zoo parking lot.


Vandalism has taken a toll. A bronze eagle has been missing from the top for decades.

The 101-year-old memorial to abolitionist John Brown remains as contentious today as the man himself, labeled throughout history as both a hero and a terrorist.

Even though an Akron study committee recommended in 2003 that the memorial be relocated, it still remains inaccessible to the public.

And recently, the monument has piqued the interest of two men who have opposing views - men who saw previous news stories on John Brown's Akron history and felt compelled to express their strong feelings.

Clyde McDonnell, 79, has a personal history with the monument and wants it accessible to the public. He remembers walking past many times on his way to Crouse School from his home.

Grady Barrett Jr., 80, originally from Texas, believes Brown may have been on the right side of the slavery issue, but still was an evil, murderous man and thinks it is best to keep the monument hidden.

Erected in 1910 by Akron's German-American Alliance for the 50th anniversary of Brown's hanging, the memorial was restored and enlarged to include a sandstone wall and plaque in 1938 by the Negro 25-year Club.

The inscription says: "He died to set his brothers free. His soul goes marching on."

The hillside where it stands was the area where Brown herded sheep for Col. Simon Perkins, son of Akron's founding father. A partial set of broken steps leads down the hillside to the zoo parking lot.

When the city transferred 10 acres of Perkins Park land to the zoo in 2000, the monument went with it and was fenced from public access.

The sandstone pillar that came from the original Summit County courthouse had been defaced by vandals over the decades. It was cleaned in 2000 and opened to the public for tours over Memorial Day in 2009 for the 150th anniversary of Brown's execution.

A brochure prepared for the anniversary summed up the controversy.

"John Brown - Was he a martyr, a madman, a patriot or a traitor? A brutal zealot, or a man of great courage and noble vision? He was convicted of murder, conspiracy and treason, yet these crimes are regarded by some as the tipping point for a country teetering towards the brink of civil war. Historians argue endlessly over what John Brown did and what he was. To the people of Akron, one thing is certain: he was, for a time, one of us."

Brown seethed with anger over American slavery.

He led a murderous attack in 1856 on pro-slave people in Kansas in which five people were killed, leaving behind the scar known as "Bleeding Kansas."

Three years later, Brown led an assault on a federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Va., now part of West Virginia, that he hoped would lead to a slave rebellion.

He was arrested, tried and then executed Dec. 2, 1859.

The Civil War broke out less than 18 months later.

McDonnell lived in Akron three times, including four years as a child.

"One day, on one of my visits to the monument, I came to the realization that John Brown had become my hero," he said.

Now a retired printer, he lives in Ridgway, Pa., and began blogging about Brown two years ago.

"All through my life I have been looking up everything about John Brown," he said. "If nothing else, we owe it to the younger generation to expose them to the story of John Brown."

Barrett, a retired self-employed sales representative now living in Cuyahoga Falls, grew up in Texas. He said he knew little of Brown until the monument was opened for tours in 2009.

He began researching Brown and said he was shocked by what he read.

"He was a bad man," Barrett said.

He understands why Brown is an important figure historically and acknowledges that Brown was correct about slavery.

"He might have been crazy," he said. "He was wrong in wanting to kill people to further his cause."

McDonnell said the monument would become a tourist attraction if the public could only see it.

"I know some people consider him a terrorist," he said. "They considered Thomas Paine a terrorist."

Barrett said he thinks many people have gone too far in glorifying Brown.

"My conservative bloodstream says leave it where it is," he said. "Don't promote this guy anymore."

©2012 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/01/09/135200/john-brown-monument-is-out-of.html#storylink=cp

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