Saturday, May 30, 2015

Dr. Henry Jerome Brown ― A "Radical Republican" of Baltimore

[picture of H.J. Brown
Henry Jerome Brown (1830 - 1920) learned life's early lessons as a child on the same streets of antebellum Baltimore which reared a young slave boy, Frederick Bailey, later to be known as Frederick Douglass. After the war, Brown and others set about the task of defining exactly what freedom was to mean in Baltimore. Late in life, as the Civil War generation of leadership surrendered the mantle of responsibility to younger activists, H.J. Brown was there, taking less of an up-front role than in his younger days, of course, but nonetheless providing valuable leadership which helped to steer black Baltimoreans through the dark days of the 1890s - 1910s.

(Maryland State Archives) 

In 1867 Maryland's Republicans held a convention in Baltimore for the purpose of addressing the political and civil rights of citizens. Dubbed "the Border States Convention", Republicans assembled at the Front Street Theatre during September. In recent years, the Republican/Unionist Party had been losing considerable influence in state government. However, the party seemed poised to stage a serious fight for universal manhood suffrage. It was hoped that if suffrage could be won for black men, the Republicans would create forty-thousand new loyal partymen.

Maryland's recognized black leaders converged in force on the convention. Dr. H.J. Brown was appointed to a Committee of Nine on the Permanent Organization at the convention. Focusing his message on the theme of the convention, black suffrage, Brown first denied that black suffrage would ignite a race war, as Southern Democrats had suggested. Speaking in a tone of defiance Brown declared that Southern "rebels" owed black Americans for two-hundred and fifty years of free labor. He proposed that the U.S. permanently confiscate the conquered Southern territory for redistribution to the freedman. Land ownership, Brown told the audience, was the true road to freedom and equality for blacks. Later during the summer of 1867, the Union League of East Baltimore, a Republican club, appointed Dr. Brown as one of several colored citizens on its committee of one hundred to lobby Congress for support of universal manhood suffrage.

When the state's Republicans gathered at the Front Street Theatre the following year, in March 1868, all the black Republicans from Baltimore City were refused seats on the floor of the convention, and had to take the spectator's view from the galleries of the hall. The leaders of the convention were determined to suppress the issue of universal manhood suffrage--it would have been "inexpedient to force it on the people now." 

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