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Kansas Historical Quarterly - The John Brown Legend in Pictures

Kissing the Negro Baby

by James C. Malin

From November 1939

Kansas Historical Quarterly, November 1939BROWN OF OSAWATOMIE
BY JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER

John Brown of Osawatomie spake on his dying day:
"I will not have to shrive my soul a priest in Slavery's pay.
But let some poor slave-mother whom I have striven to free,
With her children, from the gallows-stair put up a prayer for me!"

John Brown of Osawatomie, they led him out to die;
And lo! a poor slave-nother with her little child pressed nigh.
Then the bold, blue eye grew tender, and the old, harsh face
          grew mild.
As he stooped between the jeering ranks and kissed the negro's
child!

The shadow of his stormy life that moment fell apart;
And they who blamed the bloody hand forgave the loving heart.
And they who blessed the guilty means redeemed the good intent,
And round the grisly fighter's hair the martyr's aureole bent!

The portion of the poem printed here is the revised version as it appears in the Cambridge and Riverside editions of Whittier's poems. The original version drew severe criticism from William Lloyd Garrison in his Liberator, January 13, 1860, where it was reprinted. The second line of the third stanza read: "Without the rash and bloody hand, within the loving heart." Whether the change came from Garrison's criticism or not, the later reading was a decided improvement and softened the language as well.