Online Exhibit Marks 150th Anniversary of John Brown’s Attack

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 15, 2009 1 min read
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John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave. ... But his soul goes marching on.

Those are lines from a folk song that I’ve heard sung here in the Washington area, but John Brown is not just a character in a song. He’s a historical figure who led an attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., with the intention of ending slavery. The Washington Post retells the story of that attack in an article published today.

Now, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is marking the 150th anniversary of the attack with an online exhibit about Brown’s legacy, intended to be a resource for teachers. The attack happened on Oct. 16, 1859. Brown was executed by hanging in Charlestown, W.Va.

A press release characterizes the exhibit as delving into “the beliefs, activities, and continuing significance of John Brown, vilified by some as a murderer and venerated by others as a martyr.”

For teachers in the Washington area, it might be worth taking a field trip with students out to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park this month to tour the museum on the site where Brown made his attack. The park is hosting a number of activities to remember Brown this coming weekend.

Frankly, I didn’t learn about John Brown in school but rather through a field trip of my own to Harpers Ferry.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.