K Street at Cornerstone: The Retrial of John Brown

Dear Cornerstone Family, 

His (John Brown's) zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine - it was as the burning sun to my taper light - mine was bounded by time, his stretched away to the boundless shores of eternity. I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.

Frederick Douglass, Address at the 14th anniversary of Storer College (30 May 1881)


A hero to Harriet Tubman, a friend of Frederick Douglass praised by both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Victor Hugo, idolized by Malcolm X, yet still villainized by many historians for his violent methods, the story of John Brown is rarely told, often misunderstood, but always controversial.

His "rebellion" in Kansas and raid of the federal armory at Harpers Ferry are largely credited with igniting the Civil War and expediting abolitionist efforts.  His story requires one to ponder the difference between a patriot and a terrorist and consider theological and philosophical issues related to God's law versus man's and our obligation to right injustices against our fellow man.  It also begs us to determine what is an appropriate use and level of violence.

Yesterday, the story of John Brown came alive to our 9th and 10th graders of Cornerstone as they sat as the jury for a retrial of John Brown by six lawyers from some of the top law firms in the city (if not the country).  These learned men re-enacted the trial (with some creative license) and then walked our students through a jury deliberation. 

I was in awe as I heard the students discuss the law, the facts of the case, and tried to control their bias in favor of Brown's abolitionist goals.  Our students, led by the lawyers, delved into the finer points of treason, insurrection, and murder -- the jury divided on each count. 

After the jury was polled, the judge read out the verdict (not the students' verdict, but the actual verdict) and the final sentence: "To be Hanged until his last breath" -- the collective gasp from the students was palpable, then silence.  The students were told that Brown was indeed hanged and refused efforts by his compatriots to rescue him.  I think there was a sense of shock at John Brown's fate, at his sacrifice and at the beliefs that led him to action.

In the end, I encouraged our students to reflect on Brown's sacrifice, his actions, to ask themselves how they would respond if they saw such injustice or felt God calling them to action, and if they would be willing to lay down their lives for someone else.

I am so thankful that God has me running a school in a city filled with such giving and creative people willing to forgo billable hours to impact their community.  May my students' passion for God's Word and drive for justice be forever impacted by this retrial, and if they pursue law, may they always remember the amazing lawyers they witnessed at Cornerstone!

Principal Max