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tv   Book Discussion  CSPAN  December 20, 2014 1:30pm-2:21pm EST

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and they said essentially she was a woman who tries many things in her life and that was so like her. so she said there's much to do in this life, do it all. and she did. so flashing forward to 2010 and 2012 and a coast guard cutter is sponsored by firstly michele obama who honored the founding director and she christened the cutter in 2010 and commission did in 2012 and it is the first time they sponsored a ship in the first time that a coast guard cutter was named after a woman. and i think young women today could learn from each of these
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individuals and i know that either. you changed my life right now. >> for more information on the recent visit to west lafayette indiana and the many other cities visited by her local content vehicles go to c-span.org/local content. and now more television for serious readers. ezra greenspan calls the life of williams wells brown. he penned some of the earliest works of fiction and travel. he also reports of the contemporary offender douglas was a popular anti-slavery speaker who ran for office and practice medicine. this is about 50 minutes. >> evening, ladies and gentlemen. my name is david murray and on the half of the staff it's my
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pleasure to welcome you to politics and prose. before we begin, let me remind you to take a moment to silence your devices and when we are done please ask questions. please use the microphone. thank you. and we always do 500 event such as every year as well as classes and trips and others and so if you would like to support that if you would like to know what is happening here, sign up for our weekly e-mail or follow us through social media. the book is by ezra greenspan and we have copies of william brown's book. and there is another one as
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well. one thing i would like to mention in my capacity of the bookseller, anyone who's mentioning becoming an expert, it is confusing to have three books with pretty much the same issues, although that we are definitely lucky to be in the hands of someone who knows the interest. [applause] >> that is the last time i will do three books with the same title. i just learned something important. good evening, everyone. i would like to say time is short and it's typically long in some cases, especially when the person in question was one of the most remarkable american lives in the 19th century. i invite you to make the acquaintance in the biography and here is the three-minute bare-bones version of the life
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of williams wells brown. he was born 200 years ago into slavery in the bluegrass country of kentucky. his father was a white man named george higgins and his mother, who we know only by the name of elizabeth, was a lifelong slave likely of mixed racial ancestry. brown would never have seen his father left the state shortly after his birth. by contrast his relations with his mother, the longest the last of her close and sustaining. once he struck out west in 1817, brown spent most of his boyhood on the missouri frontier chasing the daniel boone's. after he relocated in 1825 st. louis, he was rented out to
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a succession of employers including a half-dozen same steamboat captains and during the worst of those years he served one of the most victorious slave traders on the mississippi, william walker, who had been found lifelong influence on him. and he attempted to unsuccessful escapes during his teenagers and then finally at age 19 in 1834 successfully escaped on his third and final once the steam boat landed and he lifted himself out of a litter sienna numeracy. over the next 50 years he reinvented himself repeatedly as a worker and underground railroad activists, anti-slavery
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and so right speaker, multimedia performer, temperance advocate, medical doctor and all the while composing this book. and there is evidence that he had another book completed with the history of the anti-slavery movement completed at the time in the manuscript has been lost and never been published. so he wrote to the very end of his life. over time he became the most prolific pioneering, innovative, accomplished african-american writer of the 19th century. his list of accomplishments is stunning. he wrote the earliest african-american novel and the earliest african-american play to be published, one of two and probably three plays, he not only composed it also performed and before the civil war.
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the earliest record of his five-year residence in london in the first free of this award. he was the leading black historian of his generation and the author of one of the seminal texts in the slave narratives. and even before the category existed he was a literary professional and during his lifetime he was a popular and well-known writer in both the u.s. and the uk. but after his death in 1884 he disappeared from generals i with the advent of jim crow which largely white washed african-american culture from general view, returning only recently to measured disability.
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my wife and i were walking through the national portrait gallery today and one conspicuous absence is from brown. one of the most important writers and in the year 2014, not yet officially present where he ought to be. so for tonight's reading i excerpted three stand-alone passages from the biography. running from slavery in the antebellum south to a leading resident of postwar boston and cambridge, massachusetts, it has a fanatic and emotional continuity, as i hope you will discern, originating in the formative experience in the american south. in some fundamental sense like millions of transplants, he
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carried the burden of southern history wherever he went and incorporated it into whatever he wrote. and the first excerpt comes from 1881 when he was rented out to the slave trader william walker. it includes brown and walker, doctor john young, who had been with him outside of st. louis and more quietly, his mother and sister, both of whom young had sold very recently to a st. louis tradesman by the name of isis mansfield. and so for much of what i'm reading in this expert is from his own autobiography and his now famous narrative of life of william brown. he first laid eyes on him and
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missouri and brown was working on the steamboat when it made one of its usual stops between helena, illinois and st. louis. he had slaves bound from southern markets for would've had to switch at st. louis. and walker saw such potential value in the competence of young steward that he used this between to write out the fee and inquire about his slaves of eligibility. but young refused to sell him out right, but chose to run as was customary to calendar year. and just like that brown was
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seen heading down the river is his right-hand assistant. and he recorded his time with walker in which they walked thousands of miles across the old upper and lower mississippi territory. the one-time trainman he had gradually worked his way up the human flesh trade in slaves labeled them as having little status and good southern society will down on these traitors all the more perhaps their well-being depended upon such people and services. he features those depictions of the folder slave trader who entered into the plantation house in uncle tom's to have an come of registering as a social intrusion, prevailing the
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accurate sense of prevailing inequality. nor does the fictional family escape at the entrance of the slave trader into their home. so the real-life walker, as brown rendered him in the narrative, was not just coarser but more dangerous than most of his peers. he violently separated this and sold his own slave children mr. sunriver. brown gave him the characterization that is so unremittingly harsh but it's not hard to think that the sense of quality of his voice and manner and bearing a part of this.
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okay, i'm going to skip a little bit of the operation with the essence of it. brown have served over the course of the year and the collecting aspect involved hard hunting and gathering as they went town to town purchasing this by the unit of the individual family or group wherever this was available. once he had amassed the most profitable inventory, he began the dissent stopping to sell at ports such as vicksburg's and on route to new orleans. by the time brown came in to service walker had worked out a routine and he would go to a local hotel, put up his merchant
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at a local facility such as a slave pen or some such enclosure, large and secure enough to display them and entertain potential buyers. he handle the transactions personally in order to maximize profit as well as possibly the municipal regulations although he could easily have found plenty of auctioneers ready to sell slaves were commissioned. partially lightened of his load he arrived eager to sell off his remaining property and cash out as well and so the remainder he sold through mccoy, one of the cities most active auctioneers, he operated seven days a week and in the french quarter down to the river. he sold anything commercially
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movable. steamboats, plantations, and slaves in any and all groupings. the english and french speaking colleagues manned this point at the mississippi river delta to which the thousands of souls floated down the river or drove overland each year by traitors like walker passing through their hands towards final destinations. brown probably did not actually witness those final sales unless for some reason he commanded the assistance, but he had seen enough during the year on street corners to be intimately familiar with the routine. only with the conclusion that the immediate horror of the experience fade into relief as they steamed northward. but not even safe arrival in
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st. louis could end the process is the epic full of human beings followed its course downstream the next year and the next. he would've internalized the many thousands gone and no more auction block for me, no more, no more auction block for me, many thousands gone. no more children stolen from me, no more, no more children stolen from me, many thousands gone. no more slavery chains for me, no more slavery chains for me many thousands gone. the song's meaning was all too personal for brown. just months after his release
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from walker, two of the many thousands gone were his sister and his mother and he of all people was indirectly responsible. to the best we can recover it, we had several months of release for reasons we don't quite know. his sister, elizabeth, she was sold by her new master who the traitor apparently took young women to natchez and it was a place in the tory is for the sex trade in mississippi. and at the time round was intent under any circumstances persuading his mother that she no longer had reason to remain
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in st. louis, her favorite daughter was gone, and he persuaded her that she should join him. so he crossed the mississippi river at night into this supposedly free territory of illinois, they ran for 10 days and on the 11th or captured by slave hunters using a runaway slave poster in brown's mother was immediately thereafter sold down the river and brown would never see either his mother or sister again and he never saw any member of his biological family. and so the next passage returns to the subject of brown's haunted memory about this loss biological family. but this is in brown's own voice and what you'll hear is the distinctive on a tip mode that
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he sometimes operated in as a public speaker. he was one of the most prominent african-american speakers night in a night out, he would speak and perform insane, lecture, but what he did perhaps most memorably today was he told great stories. he often spoke liberally to the issues of his career, but he was particularly known is the man that told sly and humorous anecdotes and the stories correspond to autobiographical writing often center on some version of himself for those as readers typically asked, where does the line between the real and the fictional williams wells brown lie and that is just something that one can tear
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one's hair out and trying to figure out when he fabricates this is opposed to when he's speaking quite literally. so i will have to switch here. and so now the year is 1867 after the civil war and brown is speaking at the annual convention of the largest anti-slavery convention of the united states. [inaudible conversations]
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>> on may the 70 interchange the anti-slavery society with one of his humorous anecdotes. the meeting to place at the steinway hall amid 3000 people on 14th street near union square sometime at public meetings and concerts. in the course of momentous debate over the proper role of washington, he gave the audience a rollicking account of an encounter that never actually happened but that was react in of one of his recurring fantasies. the reporter clearly takes down his verbatim and even punctuates
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the report with the laughter of the audience. brown typically gets a very involved audience response. so not long ago i had a very interesting interview with my old master and it was indeed very interesting to both of us heard we had not met for for 30 years. he congratulated me on my position and i congratulated him on his. we compared opinions and talked over all of the grounds. every once in a while he would give alongside, especially when i spoke of the progress of freedom over the land and at last he said that it may be that this will last last but i don't know if it well. do you remember when you ran
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away that he stole one of my coat. well, you had two coats and i had none and he was not willing to apply this so i did. and that is exactly when the 19th century audience laughs. and he said i have heard a great deal about traveling to europe in this country and i read a book that you sent me and bought another that i saw advertised. there is a great deal said about justice and all that sort of thing. so i think you ought to pay me for the code. how much is it worth? and it cost me $35. your memories that on that subject after 30 years. well, i remember it and i said are you poor and he said well, no, still i want justice done and i think you should pay me a little interest on this.
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and i told him that i could not do anything of the kind and he said well, you seem to have been among people who talk a great deal about justice and christianity must pay me for the coat and if you do not, i will meet you at the day of judgment and demand pay for it. and i looked at him and he seemed very serious. and well, i said, i shall have to say to you what the irishman said to the priest. a woman in ireland lost a paid and she found out who stole it. so she went to the priest and told him about it. the priest sent for the man and said to him this woman says you have stolen her pig. the juice you let? and he said i did and you must give it up.
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so he said what if i don't return the pig. and if you don't, you will have to answer towards the day of judgment. what will you say then. and will mrs. malone be there. guess and will i be there? yes. and will that pig be there? yes. then i will tell her to take her pig. [laughter] and i said to my old master that if he was there and i was there in the coat was there, he might take his coat. the old master somehow never failed to show up and for this occasion neutral ground in the heart of new york city served equally well. brown had been addressing this family gathering during more than eight quarter-century but
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the court element that he told that night was exactly what it had always been. once again he blockheads in a battle of wits this time for an uninitiated new york audience enchanted with the verbal ingenuity in which he had an antagonist. the flesh and blood reality was more complicated. old master got his relatives and was never going to give them back. psychologically for brown the pass was never passed and it lingered endlessly on consciousness. and so the final excerpt comes from a chapter, the next-to-last chapter called help you to find my people.
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that haunting phrase appeared in black newspapers after the still warm seeking lost members of their families displaced by years of slavery and war. and brown was acquainted with many people like fellow fugitives who went back south after the war and found people. in this excerpt you hear about his return to the south but what he finds is a little bit more problematic as you are about to hear. so now the year is 1871, which is to say we are 40 years after his time with william walker and
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the characters are brown and his wife who becomes an important person in the finals agents of the biography. and she knew that she had married a traveling man and rarely stayed home for long. perhaps she could bear his prolonged absences, though perhaps not because is one she hardly shared. his sister was involved in tempers reform during the last few decades of their marriage. for much of it they worked as a team in the boston area confirming planning and sometimes even meeting societies together as officers. periodically in national and international temperance organizations, they were wired that he travel farther. those trips he made alone. one of them took place in 1871
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when he set out on a tour of kentucky. the trip marked his first return to his native's date since doctor young move the operates asian westward and it brought him into close contact with the kinds of people he had known as a youth. local residents attended his talk and he found the state fertile soil for the message that he came to deliver. abstinence from liquor and communal improvement. local ministers shepherded him around the community and enlisted them to aid him in his work. a reporter said the well-known author was spotted in town and they checked out his movement.
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impressed by what he witnessed he said they were successful with the population because he led by way of familiar example. being a self-made man and a native of the south, the influence is very great with the people in the lectures have been highly appreciated by them. the meetings have been large and enthusiastic. he gave some talks in louisville and others in the surrounding countryside with plans to expand the work to the middle part of the state. in the work in which he was engaged was gratifying. but it was also dangerous. during 1871 newspapers across the reported regularly and shortly after the war it spread
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quickly into kentucky and other states in the attacks presented such a serious danger to public quarter that congress held hearings in the late 1860s. .. ground stuck to his plan. anxiety about nearby kkk activity was in the air when he boarded the eastbound train out of louisville and the afternoon
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of september 25th. roughly midway between louisville and lexington he exited at the tiny town of pleasureville intending to give a talk nearby to freedman. in a pattern that is becoming too, and he failed to reach his destination. brief reports of his kidnapping and near lynching by the klan went out almost immediately by telegraph to newspapers around the country. one -- once safely back home brown gave a full lyric count to the boston daily advertiser. he claimed he all rived alone at pleasureville depot and was met by a local african-american responsible for exporting him the five miles to the designated meeting place. when they're expected carriage filled to ride the two men set out on foot, his companion assuring him they were safe. after they walked distance but
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did not encounter the carriage eight to ten white men wrote up suddenly and surrounded brown while his escort disappeared into the shadows. three of the men dismounted, belmont brown's arms behind him and connected the 3 end of the rope to one of their horses. then they remounted and set a pace so brisk brown struggled to keep up. this would have been the second time in his life he distract down and down in such fashion but this time the situation was life threatening. the men made no secret of their intentions. pass in one house on the way, he overheard them say lawrence don't want a bigger so close to his place before continuing on. they taunted him. he would soon have no need for it. he grasped his extreme danger but could do nothing while bound to a horse.
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after proceeding for a while longer this side path they were stopped by an agitated man who ran out of the house to tell them their acquaintance inside was dying. jim, it turned out, was suffering an extreme bout of delirium and needed immediate intervention. brown had treated the condition, mind and body, in his medical practice many times with injected drugs and quickly seized on the opportunity. he convinced the uneducated superstitious kidnappers he was a practitioner of black magic and could conjure a way the man's illness. playing on their gullibility to distract them he secretly injected the man with a strong dose of morphine which science and incapacitated jim for hours. even convinced the ring leader he could also cure his severe sciatica. after isolating him, brown found a way to inject an too into
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unconsciousness. once the sole remaining guard by the intoxicated, fell asleep, brown slipped out the door, reversed his way to pleasureville depot in the dark, caught the morning train to cincinnati and told his story to the local press. most newspapers implicitly endorsed brown's account by printing his initial report without comment. some others such as his hometown paper in cambridge explicitly accepted its veracity. the boston advertiser even provid
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him. a few news are trains ran in directly from pleasures of the bill to cincinnati through lexington. brown was a public figure operating in the open and might well have presented a conspicuous target while traveling around an area in which paintings trees were convenient relocated. a white professional's respect for him in louisville might have been an uneducated white countrymen's outrage.
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would be one of many race-based attacks. four white men boarded the train in north best and -- benson, the same branch of the louisville railroad and assaulting a black railway clerk. in a more deadly attack that took place two nights after brown's or deal three black men accused of arson were dragged out of jail in winchester, tennessee and summarily lynched by a group of ten disguise white men. brown could easily have read of that particular kkk atrocity in the boston press once he reached home although he could not have recognized the town as the fledgling community in which his father, george w. higgins, had played an important civic role after leaving kentucky in 1814. such attempts at intimidation as took place in north benson, a pleasureville and winchester were among the many acts of
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terrorism occurring across the south as armed vigilantes' resorted to threats of an backed by violence to impose white supremacy. the instinctive inclination to shift the burdens of life to an inferior black serving cast had not died. it simply adapted to fit new rules and circumstances following the expiration of slavery. in his brush with the kkk brown got a whiff of what was happening and took quick action, reporting it to the press but apparently not to the authorities. by the time he did he had abandoned the field and returned to the safety of massachusetts. your arrived home in cambridge in september chastened but undaunted. more trips to the south, to kentucky and the subsequent decade. why would an esteemed professional man sharing a comfortable home with a loving
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partner and enjoying the respect of his community to continue to ventures solo down south to face humiliation and risk danger, the obvious answer is they believed vital work remains to be done and he could do it and any must have agreed and given her consent. each time he returned to the field. and may have another irreducible the personal explanation. in a strangely discordant chapter of the negro in the american rebellion, military history of african-americans, it seems generically out of place in one of his scruffy east books, he told a somewhat updated version of the story of his own escape to freedom. in his latest incarnation,
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william, the place marker for apparently brown himself, was the kentucky born quadroon named george loomis, son of his master and the name george which is his father's name and he knew it, is another marker for brown like personalities. closely matching brown's path to freedom, george had escaped decades earlier from slavery in missouri via ohio where he accepted the name of his benefactor and settled in canada but returned to the united states to take up arms passing as a white man with the union army. after serving with general grant at vicksburg, george happened in to the cottage of an old black woman in mississippi and entered into a conversation about origins. at a certain point they exchange looks of recognition and george realize he was seated opposite his long-lost mother, sold down
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the river and out of his life decades earlier. so this table like chapter, a fantastic stroke of fortune for george but a bittersweet illusion for its taylor. miraculous for unions, happened to other survivors of slavery looking to find their people. it did not happen. brown would not have stopped searching for sustainable lifeline to his past. its pursuit would grow more complicated as the old self of his youth changed before his eyes into the new style of jim crow. that would happen under the banner of national reunion. in place of the construction.
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[applause]. >> asked a question, thank you use the mic. >> i am still looking for an answer. thank you for the presentation but i am looking for an answer still to what you started with. the fact that you spoke to it is still missing. how come. any explanation to the fact that other black authors became more famous than he? >> that is a question i have been asking for five years i have been working on this book and i hope nights like this are
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a sense that will not have to answer that question. why did brown -- browns disappeared from public view by the 1880s by the way african-american culture by and large this appeared. african-american culture as created by black people. there are white imitations that are very popular through the years, but the disappearance of brown was not a typical. it was part of a much larger pattern. to me the really interesting part of the question is why it did brown not return with the same force that frederick douglass did after the 1950s with the coming of the civil rights here at and powerful changes in our international culture. part of the answer is douglas was the ultimate
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african-american public man. not that brown was and. brown was fabulous, wreathing public speaker and well-known. his name was in the newspapers and his memory was a live in the black community. it never died in the black community. what i am talking about is the more general american community. i think the other part of the reason is brown is one of the most slippery, great writers in all of american literature. how do you read a writer who writes history and yet has fictitious sketches of characters named william, place markers for himself as part of the narrative? that is to say brown never obeys the rules. he breaks generic expectations. it seems as though he is writing badly if you are trained to read in a particular way. what is happening now is in our
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post modern computer-generated time, much more innovative notion of what constitutes interesting storytelling, the breakdown between what is notable as true and authentic and fictional and supposedly in authentic, this is the time for william wells brown to be recognized, and the kinds of performance writer that he was and i do believe that his star is rising very fast. >> you know his mother only as elizabeth and mentioned in his bought a -- autobiographical work that is like this, the name of his benefactor. how do you know william wells
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brown as william wells brown? how did we come to the name? >> identity seeking to. the name was the marker. this was the common african-american pattern. it was more complicated than for most people born in slavery. was born with the name of william. it is a fact, we don't know what he was called. was not called william on the farm. team might have been built or build your will or will the but he was certainly called that probably many years after. he was called more nasty things as well, but at a certain point his master, john young, took into the households, the infant son of his brother and that child was also named william and
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in one household, one too many for the masters of the master removed the name of william and renamed the future brown sanford, probably city. when he escapes at the age of 19, probably a symbolic act but he reclaimed his identity as william. he was apparently, the story is probably true. he was saved by a white quaker when he was running in the middle of winter from cincinnati, escaped on january 1st, running in the snow in a bitter period of cold, even the ohio river was frozen. i checked this for reports. according to the master with the code we don't know but brown sought out the help of a benevolent looking white person.
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can't trust him and the second goes by, you realize he was risking his life, third goes by with a quaker and this was something he guessed he contrasts the man's name was wells brown. he and his wife took william in a, nurtured him, gave him a little money, and the naming ceremony is that shows an awful lot like the naming of jacob by the angel of god after their confrontation and brown takes on the name of his benefactor but insists on adding vote williams that was his connection to his sense of himself as his own person.
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>> you look intimidated. >> what led you to be so interested in this manhattan spend time writing about him? >> the five years i didn't know was going to be five years, that is the easier part of the questionnaire. i knew that there was the rum a william wells brown who had -- he had written one of the nineteenth century plays that should be part of the american repertory are, and when i read that, i started to put the points together and thought to myself this is not remarkable writer and i knew another about his life to realize it was his remarkable life and when you
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have a remarkable life and the remarkable writer at the you have the subject for of biography and also to go back to the first question, the timing was right. this was the nature writer who had not been recognized and adopted and this was going to be a very difficult project because there is no archive and brown is not trustworthy and when you read his life too literally you are just being taken advantage of. he was a very tricky writer and that also appealed to me. all the stars were in convergence and it took five years to make a full revolution around william wells brown

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