Bishop W. T. Vernon was the Superintendent of the Western Reserve University in Kansas City, Kansas, which was an African-American University.

Bishop Vernon spoke at the dedication of the John Brown Statue on May 9, 1935, and gave a powerful speech about John Brown. He extolled Brown’s belief in equality for all and his willingness to die to free the slaves. In addition, Vernon addressed the injustice of lynching African Americans, which, sadly, was all too common in the United States in 1935.

Bishop Vernon stated that John Brown could not endure the thought of African Americans who were in bondage, and wrote, “The vision of the damned was burning into the souls of men. John Brown could not and did not try to shut our slavery’s vision.”

Bishop Vernon went on to state of Brown: “Men would follow him wherever he led and would be willing to die that America might live. As the years go by and the body of John Brown rests in the grave with the mark of a rope around his neck — the rope they placed there to forever stigmatize him as a felon, men will call him more and more here, martyr, leader sent of God.”

Bishop Vernon utilized John Brown’s abolitionist crusade to protest lynching African Americans, which was a means that racist whites used to intimidate African Americans in the United States in 1935.

Bishop Vernon stated of John Brown: “If John Brown lived today he would fight the lyncher and lynching. He would fight the poverty of the poor. He would fight injustice everywhere. He would make war to bring peace. John Brown gave all. He would despise the politician whose motto is ‘Anything to win.’ He would risk destruction, oblivion, and death if need be to stand for America’s interest and America’s future.”

African Americans had to contend with institutionalized racism in the 1930s, and lynching was one of the means that was utilized by racists who intimidate African Americans in to submitting to racial segregation.

African Americans who resisted racial segregation in all areas of the nation faced the threat of being lynched by a mob of racist whites. African Americans campaigned for an anti-lynching law, but the deep racism that pervaded American culture in the 1930s made anti-lynching laws hard to be passed in state and in the national legislature.

Bishop Vernon said: “John Brown would be for an anti-lynching bill.”

John Brown may have been hung in 1859 for his raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), but he was still a current and important historical figure in 1935 when Bishop W. Vernon stood against racism and lynching.

John Brown is still a current historical figure today, and is studied, quoted and used as an example of ideologically related action nationally and internationally.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

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