That Gosh Darn John Brown – A GDN Exclusive

by July 27, 2022

I grew up on Fort Bragg in North Carolina, but I was born in small-town Albemarle, NC. While my military community was very diverse, my hometown was not. My hometown was a Post-Brown v Board of Education America in which the Supreme Court ruled that separate but equal was not constitutional. Yet as a child, I was told not to be past the railroad tracks after dark in my hometown because the town still practiced segregation and that was the line. And, everyone there knew it. This was vastly different from my military community, so I noticed that contrast. And this is where, from my own personal experiences, I learned some Black Southern Rural Culture.

I want to tell you about my paternal grandfather. My Grandad, Charles Everette Davis, 81, died on March 5, 2011. He was loved and is missed daily by his friends and family. My grandfather rarely used curse words. He grew up as a Christian and learned that using the Lord’s name in vain is a sin. What he would do instead was replace curse words with words that are not offensive. We are all familiar with switching words or code-switching. We all have heard folks say “darn” instead of the swear word we all know. They interject, “Shoot!” when we all know what word they’re replacing. Maybe it’s out of being polite, or it could be location-based, like a school or church. It could even be religion-based, but no matter, we are all familiar with this type of code-switching.

My grandfather would replace the blasphemous G. D. (Gosh Darnit) with John Brown. for example, if his knees were hurting, he might say, “My John Brown knees are killing me.” Another example would be him using it to express it as an exclamation. For instance, I had a John Brown good time. I was a child. I had no idea who John Brown was. Since that time, I have discovered who John Brown was. I learned that John Brown was a hero. And as an adult, I learned that heroes always had enemies. I also have come to understand that the enemies of heroes really are the villains. So, John Brown was a hero, but John Brown was also a villain to pro-slavery people.

A righteous freedom fighter

The question is and always has been, “Was John Brown a hero, a villain, a madman, or  a saint?” Left with these four choices, I most definitely consider him a hero. He was a righteous freedom fighter and fought against the evils of slavery. After many years of using words, logic, and biblical references, he came to the realization that slavery would never end without bloodshed. His realization, in retrospect, was correct. He was prolific in his vision. And his dedication to having slavery come to its end was more than commendable.

John Brown, a white conductor of the Underground Railroad, fought with his sons, formerly enslaved men he had freed, and other anti-slavery people. He also collaborated with Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and other abolitionists in his struggle to bring slavery to its end. Brown moved to the Kansas Territory, a burgeoning state, in 1855. At that time, The Kansas Territory was in a state-level of civil war. This civil war was over slavery. Was Kansas going to be a Slave-State or not? This was the question. This is what the conflict was about. John Brown and the free-state settlers were anti-slavery.

What I’m about to say will be controversial, and this will also upset many that are ignorant of the history of our nation. But like science, it’s also true whether you believe it or not, and I will say it here and I will say it now. Slavery was never a settled issue. There was never a time in our country when slavery was unchallenged. It was utterly unacceptable to many of the people, not just the enslaved. John Brown was just one of many that gave their lives up to bring an end to slavery in this country. What this nation referred to as a peculiar institution was considered heinous by many.

The Pro-slavery settlers in The Kansas Territory attacked and destroyed two anti-slavery newspapers and a Free State Hotel to take the state over and make it a slave state. John Brown led five of his sons and other anti-slavery settlers to hunt down the attackers. They killed five people that were either professional slave-hunters or pro-slavery. The consequence of this bloodshed was John Brown had determined that it would take bloodshed to end slavery. He was certain of that.

John Brown then planned to start a war on the enslavers.

He saw himself as the leader of all the enslaved people as they rose up against their enslavers. His first plan was to equip all the enslaved people with pikes. He realized that if they were armed, they could bring an end to their enslavement themselves. He did not have the funding for this plan. So he moved on to his next plan. His next and ultimately final plan was a raid a federal Armory. He was going to arm his forces with the weapons stored at The Harper’s Ferry Amory in Virginia. According to National Parks Conservation Association, a 501c3 non-profit, on its website www.npca.org, “Tubman helped John Brown plan his 1859 raid of a Harpers Ferry arsenal, one of the major events that led to the Civil War.” And according to his wife Mary, “He had been waiting twenty years for some opportunity to free the slaves…” He did capture the armory but was trapped there by the federal army and captured. This brought an end to his quest to end the wickedness and improve this country.

John Brown’s trial was the first nationally covered trial. He was also the first American tried and hanged for treason. He was a hero to many. Yet, at the same time, he was considered the most reviled human known to man. I think we know who hated him. I believe that goes without saying. John Brown was a hero to the moral, the abolitionists, and the enslaved. John Brown was my grandfather’s hero, and he’s my hero. One question does remain. And that question is, who are your Heroes?

When I asked my father why Grandad said John Brown instead of G. D., he said, “Son, I’m not sure.” I realized that John Brown’s actions might have been considered immoral, or it just made the enslavers and their families the villains. As such,  they did not teach his righteous acts of bravery were not taught in schools. This was especially true in the South. I also realize that John Brown, considered a villain to many, was not promoted as the hero that he was.

I don’t know what anyone will take away from this story of my grandfather’s relationship with John Brown, but here is mine. I’m taking my grandfather’s tradition that missed a generation, and I am adopting it. I’m saying, “John Brown (this or that)” and “That John Brown food was delicious!”

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