ReThinking Race – a program of the University of Akron – has partnered with the Summit County Historical Society of Akron, Ohio, to offer trolley tours in collaboration with the city of Akron. They will visit many locations significant to Black History month. The tours, on Feb. 12, are free and depart every half-hour beginning at 10 a.m. from the UA Student Union building on trolley 1. Trolley 2 first departs the Polsky building pick-up point at 10:20 a.m. A pick-up location at the Vernon Odom library begins at 10:15 a.m. and also departs each half-hour. Tours will run throughout the day with the final departure at 1:50 p.m. from the Polsky building.
The trolleys will make stops for visitors to get off and on in addition to the initial pick-up locations. Stops included are the Buckingham building to visit the Dr. Shirla McClain Gallery for Akron’s Black History and Culture and the John Brown House.
The trolleys will pass by the Matthews Hotel monument and the Sojourner Truth Ohio Historical marker. For those not wishing to get off the trolley, the complete circuit lasts approximately 50 minutes and each trolley will include a SCHS tour guide pointing out significant landmarks on the route.
At the Vernon Odom Branch – Akron-Summit County Public Library, visitors can view the mural painted in 1971 by then UA art student Woodrow Nash. The mural depicts Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, and Malcom X. Sojourner Truth was added to this mural at a later date and a second mural was created for the branch meeting room. It depicts local African American leaders from the Akron community. Included are Helen Arnold; Ed Davis; Shirla McClain; Martin Chapman; Ray Brown; Horace Stewart; and Vernon Odom.
The Matthews hotel had been located across the street from the old Ritz Theater [now the Interbelt Lounge] and was one of the only locations African-American artists could stay at while appearing in Akron. Local resident Miller Horns designed the artwork for the monument and dreamed of its completion. It was finished prior to Horns’ death in October 2012.
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), a former slave, was famous for a speech she delivered in 1851 to the Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio titled: “Ain’t I a woman.” The gallery of Akron’s Black History opened in 1994 in the Buckingham building at UA. Dr. Shirla McClain and Edward Gilbert, an attorney, served as co-chairs of the initial fund campaign for the gallery.
History of the John Brown House
Despite it being the residence of its most famous inhabitant for only two years, the building once owned by Col. Simon Perkins, Jr. is now forever known as “The John Brown House.” Originally built around 1830 by Benjamin O. Greene and Salmon Hoisington, it was rented by the Perkins family while their Stone Mansion was being built across the corner of Copley Road and South Portage Path from 1835 to 1937.
Perkins purchased the property sometime between late 1843 or early 1844. When he began to raise sheep on his land – to become known as Mutton Hill – he formed a partnership with Brown. Perkins provided the sheep, food, and grazing land. Brown and his sons would tend to the flock and shear the wool. The profits would be divided equally. The agreement called for Brown to rent the wood-frame dwelling for the sum of $30 per year.
Brown was so successful that the wool soon began winning awards locally and nationally. Unfortunately, Brown was not such a good businessman. When he relocated to Springfield, Mass., in 1846 to establish better trade relations with the wool dealers in the area he left his sons in Akron to continue working on the Perkins land and tending the sheep. Ultimately, Brown incurred various lawsuits that cost the partnership approximately $40,000. By February 1854 the venture collapsed.
The house was owned after that by several of Perkins’ sons and later became the location of the original Akron Golf Club – now known as the Portage Country Club. The house was left to SCHS in 1942/1943 by will of May Adams Perkins. The house is now a museum and history gallery.
John Brown, the Man
John Brown was born in West Torrington, Conn., on May 9, 1800. He was the fourth child of Owen and Ruth Mills Brown. The family left New England for the frontier life of the Western Reserve. Brown arrived in Hudson at age five and was influenced by his father’s Calvinist and Abolitionist guidance.
As a young man, Brown had a clear goal, which he expressed publicly in 1837 at Hudson’s Congregational Church: “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery.”
Brown spent the majority of his life in Ohio, living also for a time in Kent and Richfield. He felt violence to be acceptable and necessary to achieve his goal. An active Abolitionist, Brown participated in the Underground Railroad and he regularly transported groups of runaway slaves, delivering them to stations in Ohio. When he sensed danger, he smuggled them all the way back to Akron and hid them in his home, a fact that Grace Perkins was not pleased about.
In 1854 Brown moved to Kansas which was then deciding to enter the Union as a free state or a slave state. From there, Brown continued to petition the citizens of Summit County for anti-slavery support. Eventually, in 1859, Brown hatched a plot to raid the federal armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). He would seize the weapons and arm the local slaves to aid in their own uprising.
As with most of his other business dealings, Brown was successful in capturing the armory on Oct. 16, but by the next morning the local militia overtook the invaders. Brown was captured, tried for treason and sentenced to be hung on Dec. 2, 1859. The raid set in motion the events that led to South Carolina’s succession on December 20, 1860 and the outbreak of the Civil War on April 12, 1861.
John Brown has been vilified as a radical anarchist and praised as a great liberator throughout history. Was he a fanatic or an outright lunatic? There are those who disputed the claims:
“An enthusiast broods over the oppression of a people until he fancies himself commissioned by Heaven to liberate them. He ventures the attempt which ends in little else than his own execution.”
— Abraham Lincoln
“Did John Brown fail? John Brown began the war that ended American slavery and made this a free republic. His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine. Mine was as the taper light; his was as the burning sun. I could live life for the slave; John Brown could die for him.”
— Frederick Douglass
“Some 1800 years age, Christ was crucified. This morning, Captain Brown was hung. He is not Old Brown any longer; he is an Angel of Light.”
— Henry David Thoreau
“John Brown…was a white man who went to war against white people to help free slaves. And any white man who is ready and willing to shed blood for your freedom – in the sight of other whites, he’s nuts!”
— Malcolm X
“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”
— John Brown’s last letter written the day he was hanged December 2, 1859