Steve Nowak, Executive Director of the Watkins Museum of History , proudly explained that the Watkins was a “founding institution” for a new traveling exhibit about John Brown. “Encountering John Brown” is an appropriate initiative for the Watkins and for Lawrence because Brown’s experiences here were significant in forming his philosophy and actions as an abolitionist.
John Brown was notorious for his activities on behalf of the abolition of slavery in the mid-1800s. It was while he was living in Lawrence that Brown realized that preaching abolition was not enough; he needed to take action. His work to transport slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad are legendary. He fought at the Battle of Blackjack that took place near the present day Baldwin City before returning east to Virginia where he led the Harper’s Ferry slave uprising in 1859.
Developed by Overland Traveling Exhibits, the self-guided exhibit highlights the influences and episodes in John Brown’s life that formed his career as an abolitionist. Visitors will read narratives and view portraits of Brown and other key individuals of the era. The portraits are created by artist Brad Sneed.
Work on the exhibit began in 2019, but the fall 2020 opening was delayed due to the pandemic. Funded by grants from the City of Lawrence, Watkins eagerly accepted the challenge of staging a traveling exhibit even though the Museum had never made space for such a display in the past. The display will be situated in the Community Room of the museum for two months from September to early November. Nowak estimates that it will move to new locations around the country over the next two or three years. The Watkins Museum will continue to be highlights as a founding institution .
The project has a wealth of partnerships supporting it. To welcome the potential increase in tourism, ExploreLawrence is coordinating bus tours and developing a brochure about other local sites of interest. Blackjack Battlefield and the Lecompton Historical Society are making similar plans. The Lawrence Arts Center will feature an exhibit about segregation coincident with the exhibit. Theatre Lawrence will stage “The Ballad of Blackjack” this fall.