As an abolitionist leader, John Brown is a complicated figure in American history. In the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the state of Kansas became awash with pro-slavery “border ruffians” from Missouri and “Jayhawkers” from the east, with a mission to influence the state’s stance on slavery. After a rash of violence on abolitionist structures in Lawrence, Kansas, Brown led an attack on the pro-slavery instigators, attacking them with broadswords, leaving five dead.
Three years later, Brown led a failed assault on a federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry (then part of the state of Virginia, now West Virginia), that he hoped would lead to a slave rebellion. Brown was captured in the raid and charged with treason and five counts of murder. He was later hanged, but while awaiting execution Brown was interviewed extensively by the press. His words energized both sides of the slavery debate. The American Civil War broke out 18 months later.
This monument stands atop a steep hill overlooking the METRO bus kiosk in the Akron Zoo parking lot. The hillside where it stands was the area where Brown herded sheep for Col. Simon Perkins, son of Akron’s founding father. Erected in 1910 by Akron’s German-American Alliance for the 50th anniversary of Brown’s hanging, the memorial was restored and enlarged to include a sandstone wall and plaque in 1938 by the Negro 25-Year Club. The inscription says: “He died to set his brothers free. His soul goes marching on.” The sandstone pillar in the center of the monument came from the original Summit County courthouse.
Through most of the 20th century, the monument fell victim to vandals. A bronze eagle once sat atop the pillar but has been missing for decades. The monument was cleaned in 2000 and later opened for public tours starting in 2009.
Sadly one cannot visit the monument on their own, but the Summit County Historical Society regularly leads tours. Visitors to the monument are also treated to one of the great vistas of Summit County—the view of the city is simply incredible.
Know Before You Go
The Monument is not open to the public, but the Summit County Historical Society offers periodic tours. If your schedule does not coincide with any of the scheduled tours, you can arrange for a private tour from the Akron Zoo.