LAKE PLACID — The former presidential candidate’s beard bristles like John Brown’s, and his political views, for some, are as fiery as the 19th century martyred abolitionist.
Richard Claxton Gregory, better known as Dick Gregory, is a visionary and/or madman to some like Brown, but the comedian/author/social activist’s stance, right or wrong, is as unequivocal.
Saturday at John Brown Day 2013 in Lake Placid, Gregory is the keynote speaker and presents “Relive the Past, Think About the Future.”
The program also features Kate Clifford Larson, a Harriet Tubman biographer who is speaking on the friendship between the “Moses of her people” and the Harpers Ferry raid leader.
Historically, Brown is either lionized or demonized.
“What he did … a white man willing to die and kill for me,” said Gregory, who lives in Plymouth, Mass. “If I write down 100 of the incredible people in the world, including Jesus, John Brown is No. 1. Jesus was sent here to die for our sins. John Brown took that on his own. He had to sit and watch his two children die. It was something special about that raid.”
In mid-October 1859, Brown and 19 raiders stormed the Harpers Ferry Arsenal before succumbing to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry commanded by Brevet Col. Robert E. Lee.
Brown’s intimates included famed orator Frederick Douglass and the iconic Underground Railroad conductor Tubman.
Douglass told Brown he was “walking into a perfect steel trap, and you will never get out alive.” Brown hoped to rendezvous with Tubman before the raid, but she was ill.
“When Harriet Tubman was on her dying bed, she said, ‘The one wish I had in my life was to be there at Harpers Ferry and die with John Brown,’” Gregory said.
“When the universal force picks you, it leaves no footprint. The planet would not be the same today if it hadn’t been for John Brown.”