FIVE FOR FREEDOM: We Pause for An Announcement

I first met Osborne Perry Anderson nearly 17 years ago.  At the time, he had been dead for 128 years.

Not only dead and gone but forgotten, even though he had been the sole survivor of John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry and had written the only insider account of the event that further divided an already polarized nation and arguably sparked the Civil War.  You know, the one that cost 750,000 lives, freed the slaves and set the stage for generations of white backlash marked by Jim Crow laws, hundreds of lynchings, and all forms of racial discrimination in a color-and-race-obsessed nation that long sought to sanitize and hide from its own history.

Osborne Anderson, I would learn, was one of five African Americans with John Brown at that fateful time and place. The five had long been overshadowed in popular mythology and academic treatments by their charismatic martyred leader, forgotten figures treated as footnotes, if they were treated at all.

Eventually, I got to know all five—along with their roots and branches, their ancestors and descendants.  And I came to realize that their story is also our story and not one to be relegated exclusively to “black” sections in bookstores. Theirs is a story that resonates today in ways we often find difficult to discuss, one that remains, in Gunnar Myrdal’s phrase, “an American Dilemma.”

But, formally, for the past year and a half under contract, it has been my privilege and honor to research and write the story of these “hidden figures” in our history whose legacy lives on, not only in their courageous fight for freedom but in the country’s persistent ambivalence about race–about who we are as a people and whether we can “overcome some day” our history that is still based in so many ways on the original sin of slavery.

Last week, at last, I submitted my completed manuscript for FIVE FOR FREEDOM, my forthcoming book about the African American soldiers in John Brown’s revolutionary army. It is scheduled for release early next year from Lawrence Hill Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press.  I look forward not only to its publication but also to the opportunity to bring their story from the past into the present.  It is one of high hopes and dispiriting disappointments, of one step forward and two steps back, of the ongoing struggle for social justice and human dignity.

It is in many ways a dark subject.  It is my hope that my efforts can bring some light into the darkness.


  1. Greg Artzner on July 10, 2017 at 5:37 am

    Very much looking forward to reading your book, Gene. It was a pleasure to meet you and your wife in Annapolis this year.

  2. Cathy Baldau on July 10, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Gene – Congratulations on completing your manuscript! What wonderful news. We here in Harpers Ferry look forward to seeing you and your book soon!

  3. Donna Copeland Hill on October 16, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Gene – Thank you for writing Five for Freedom. I can’t wait to delve into your book.

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