Sharing the Story of “Five for Freedom” – Lessons Given and Lessons Learned

By the time most of you who subscribe read this, I will have shared the stories of Osborne Perry Anderson, John Anthony Copeland, Shields Green, Lewis Sheridan Leary and Dangerfield Newby — the Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army —  in a  Writers LIVE talk at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore.

This will be my tenth talk on the subject of these five hidden figures, overshadowed for 160 years by their towering, martyred commander. At this time, there are 14 more appearances scheduled into next May — and the book has now gone into a second printing.  Unsolicited speaking requests are rolling in. Sales aside, this is all good news to accomplish my goal. That is, as Kirkus Reviews wrote of my book, to “right…a wrong older than the Civil War.”

In addition to these in-person appearances, I’ve given four radio interviews, appeared on Book C-SPAN and most recently did the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Rodricks’ “Roughly Speaking” podcast. My talks have taken me from Politics and Prose to Busboys and Poets, from Fauquier to Frederick, from Bethesda to Baltimore, and in the months ahead I will be traveling to Petersburg, Va. and Oberlin, Ohio. Next up is the History Book Festival, in Lewes, Del., where I”l be speaking on Saturday, Sept. 29, at 1:30 p.m. in the Lewes Public Library.  I’ll also be speaking and signing in a few venues closer to home.  For my full calendar, please click here to go to the Events tab on this website.

The questions have been both interesting and challenging.  Some have wanted to know what I think of John Brown. Was he crazy?  Was he treasonous?  But I’m there to talk about the five forgotten men, not the legendary Brown, except as they interact with him on the road to Harpers Ferry.  One question surprised me.  Based on my research and writing, what do I think about reparations for all the years of free labor demanded of the enslaved?  I’m going to save my answer for forthcoming talks, should anyone raise it again.

In due course, I’ve learned something about speaking to groups.  It doesn’t come naturally to me.  I’m much more at ease answering someone else’s questions than giving a formal talk.  I’ve also learned that once I get wound up on the subject, I can get deep down into the weeds.  Some listeners appear to like that.  Others, maybe not so much. I’m working to keep it if not short than at least shorter.  But, so far, I haven’t noticed anyone nodding off.  The other challenge is to bring as much passion to the next speech as to the last.  Not simply to rerun the tape but to convey to others the lingering tragedy of events and the aftereffects that are with us still today.

As a media star, I guess you could say I’m a work in progress.

(And, Late-Breaking News: The Enoch Pratt talk went well. Presentation well-received.  Good questions and comments from a largely African American audience. It was taped and is being podcast, and I’ll post a link as soon as it becomes available. This will be my third podcast about FIVE FOR FREEDOM.)

You can catch some of my shtick  on my radio interviews, including with Kojo Nnamdi on Aug. 15 on WAMU. And, or, come see me in person at a future event. For those who don’t want to hear a speech but would like to chat, come to the 41st annual  National Press Club Book Fair on Nov. 2.  I’ll be there, along with many other authors,  and we will all be happy to meet our readers.



  1. Terri Shaws on September 22, 2018 at 9:28 am

    I just finished reading The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. Although it is a fictionalized account, I was surprised to read that he mentioned all five of the men in your book.

    • Gene Meyer on September 22, 2018 at 12:08 pm

      Terri, thanks for your comment. I have a copy of Good Lord Bird and intentionally did not read it as I was researching and writing FFF. I did not want his voice to influence mine. I understand that one of his black raiders came from Kansas. That is pure fiction. I’m a fan of McBride’s (I enjoyed The Color of Water, and Good Lord Bird won the 2013 National Book Award). Perhaps now, that FFF is done, I will find time to read it.

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