John Brown’s Body

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John Brown is well-known for his abolitionist exploits throughout the antebellum United States. From leading armed groups in the Bleeding Kansas crisis to his near-successful raid on Harpers Ferry in Virginia, Brown made clear his staunch beliefs that slavery must be abolished and that violent insurrection was the only way to accomplish that goal. Eventually, these beliefs resulted in his downfall, as he was captured at Harpers Ferry by a United States Army regiment and later executed. What’s less commonly known about John Brown is his connection to Grinnell. While helping escaped slaves move along the Underground Railroad Brown slept at the home of J.B. Grinnell, founder of the town and supporter of the College. A photograph of this house is depicted in the lower right corner of this block, with an arrow pointing to the room where Brown stayed during his visit. Also included are two newspaper clippings from the Des Moines Register documenting Brown’s time in Iowa, including the story of a tense standoff in Iowa City shortly after he left Grinnell. At the center of the block is a portrait of J.B. Grinnell himself, found in the Grinnell College Archives. The words “John Brown’s Body” near the right edge of the block are a reference to the eponymous marching song sung by the Union Army to commemorate Brown’s sacrifice, the melody of which would go on to be reused in the now well-known Battle Hymn of the Republic. Like those who rebelled in Haiti, Brown believed that grassroots revolution could be an effective weapon against the institution of slavery and worked to advance equality for people of African descent.