John Brown and Bill Tammeus

By Justice Markandey Katju-

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

Yesterday, I saw this film on Youtube.

John Brown ( 1800-59 ), who is a central character in the film, is one of my heroes. Though a white man, he fought for the liberation of blacks from slavery before the American Civil War ( 1861-65 ), and was caught and hanged for organizing a raid on Harpers Ferry, when he tried to seize the army arsenal there to distribute to the slaves and wage a war for their emancipation.

He failed to achieve his objectives ( something which was later achieved by Lincoln ), like Spartacus, the Decembrists, the Narodniks, Bhagat Singh, and the other Indian revolutionaries fighting against British rule. Dr Sun Yat Sen, etc who also failed, nevertheless his fight for that noble cause makes him my hero.

After seeing the film, I sent this email to my boyhood friend, Bill Tammeus, who is an American, a retired journalist ( he worked for the Kansas City Star, where the great American writer Ernest Heminway had once worked ), and is an year older than me, being 78. He lives in Kansas City Missouri.

”See this Reverend, and tell me whether you folks of Kansas are with John Brown or against him. ”

Bill and I had become friends in 1956-57 when he came with his father, an agricultural expert who came to teach in the Allahabad Agricultural Institute and was admitted to my school, the Boys High School, Allahabad. After two years or so in India, Bill left with his family for America, but we have been in touch ever since i.e. for over 60 years, quite a record. I call him ‘Reverend’ since after retirement Bill became a preacher in his Presbyterian Church.

Bill sent this reply to my email: ”John Brown was a self-righteous fool, though he was right about the evils of slavery.”

This made me very upset. I cannot tolerate insults to my heroes who fought against oppression, like Lincoln, Robespierre, the Decembrists, Lenin, Bhagat Singh, Surya Sen ( Masterda ), Chandrashekhar Azad, Ashfaqullah, etc.

So, I then sent him this email.

”Reverend, I respect you as a good man, but don’t ever, ever speak against John Brown. He is one of my heroes, fighting for liberating the blacks. He is like Lafayette, another hero of mine, who fought for liberating America, for no personal benefit. Have some shame when you speak against him ”

To which he replied: ”I’ll agree to that if you agree that I’m not a Kansan and don’t live in Kansas.”

Bill lives in the state of Missouri, not in the state of Kansas. There is a Kansas City in the state of Missouri, and another city with the same name in the state of Kansas. So that is why he denied being a Kansan.

I responded: ”Ok. Agreed. ”




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