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Good morning, it's Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, the day the week when I reprise an instructive or inspirational quotation. Today's comes from a writer whose labors may be unfamiliar to you. His name was Osborne Perry Anderson. An African American who was born free in 1830, Anderson attended Oberlin College, published an abolitionist newspaper in Canada, and wore the Union blue during the Civil War.

His claim to fame is that he was the only original black member of John Brown's small band to survive the raid at Harpers Ferry launched on this date in 1859. Anderson later would serve in Mr. Lincoln's Army. In 1861, he authored an eyewitness account of what took place at Harpers Ferry, taking specific issue with the version provided by Robert E. Lee and others.

John Brown was no armchair terrorist who dispatched other men's children to die for his cause. He led his small band of committed abolitionists personally and went to the gallows unrepentantly. In his statement before the Virginia court that sentenced him to death, Brown vowed, "If it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life, for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this slave country, whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say, ‘Let it be done!'"

Brown was referring to sacrifices already made by his family in the cause of abolition. One son had been killed in Kansas fighting against pro-slavery militants from Missouri, and in Brown's ragtag guerilla army at Harpers Ferry were three of his other sons and two brothers of his son-in-law. Four of those young men would die there.

In addition to Osborne Perry Anderson, four other members of Brown's original raiders were African American: Lewis Sheridan Leary, a freeborn North Carolinian of white, black, and Indian ancestry; John Anthony Copeland, Leary's nephew, also freeborn, whose family moved to Ohio where he, too, attended Oberlin; Shields Green, a fugitive slave from South Carolina; and Dangerfield Newby, born a slave in Virginia but freed in Ohio by a master who'd come to see the evils of enslaving other human beings.

Newby and Leary were killed in the fighting on Oct. 17, 1859, along with John Brown's sons Oliver and Watson, and their kinsmen by marriage, William and Dauphin Thompson. Two other African Americans, Shields Green and John Copeland, were hanged after their capture at Harpers Ferry, as was John Brown himself.

But Osborne Anderson, the fifth black member of Brown's crusaders, escaped and lived to tell the tale -- literally. Four of the five escaped raiders ended up serving in the Union ranks during the Civil War. This must have been a chafe to Robert E. Lee, a U.S. Army officer who snuffed out the Harpers Ferry raid (and to J.E.B. Stuart, who was there as well). In his after-action report, Lee couldn't bring himself to mention any of the blacks by name. Lee also asserted that the black raiders weren't there of their own volition. "The blacks whom he forced from their homes in this neighborhood, as far as I could learn, gave him no voluntary assistance," Lee wrote. "The result proves that the plan was the attempt of a fanatic or madman, which could only end in failure; and its temporary success was owing to the panic and confusion he succeeded in creating by magnifying his numbers."

In his memoir, Osborne Anderson rebuts all this while returning the insult: He doesn't even mention Lee by name. "Of the various contradictory reports made by slaveholders and their satellites about the time of the Harpers Ferry conflict, none were more untruthful than those relating to the slaves," Anderson wrote. "There was seemingly a studied attempt to enforce the belief that the slaves were cowardly, and that they were really more in favor of Virginia masters and slavery, than of their freedom. As a party who had an intimate knowledge of the conduct of the colored men engaged, I am prepared to make an emphatic denial of the gross imputation against them."

Contrary to what Lee had said, Anderson stated in "A Voice From Harper's Ferry" that some slaves from farms nearby did join them -- and were cut down in the fight. "As in the war of the American Revolution, the first blood shed was a black man's, Crispus Attucks," he wrote. "At Harper's Ferry, the first blood shed by our party, after the arrival of the United States troops, was that of a slave." His name was "Phil," Anderson said of the unknown martyr. "I saw him fall."

And that's our quote of the week.

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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