Trio to receive Spirit of John Brown Freedom Awards on Saturday, May 4

CONTACT:  Martha Swan, Executive Director, John Brown Lives!

(518) 744-7112;

Civil rights, immigrant rights and worker rights are among the most pressing social justice concerns of our era—and John Brown Lives! will recognize three leaders in the struggle to achieve each at its annual John Brown Day celebration on Saturday, May 4, at 2 p.m.

Dr. Barbara Ransby, an award-winning author, historian and political activist at the University of Chicago; Lewis Papenfuse, former executive director of the Worker Justice Center of New York; and Janet McFetridge, who has provided warm clothing and toys to countless refugees crossing into Canada at the border in Champlain, will receive Spirit of John Brown Freedom Awards at the annual event, which will be held at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid. The public is welcome.

“Each year, our recipients are on the front lines of the greatest social justice struggles of our time,” said Martha Swan, executive director of the North Country-based human rights and freedom education project, which is turning 20 this year. “Our continuing struggle for civil rights, labor rights, and immigrant rights are three separate battles. But at the same time, they’re a single battle: One for the soul of humanity. Barbara, Lewis and Janet are leaders in that fight.”

The Spirit of John Brown Freedom Award honors women and men whose work invokes the passion and conviction of the 19th-century abolitionist and celebrates leaders and innovators in civil and human rights whose courage, creativity, and commitment are models for others to follow.

  • Ransby wrote “Making Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the 21stCentury,” which was published last year, and the acclaimed “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision,” which won eight awards. She is a Distinguished Professor of African American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and History at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she directs the campus’ Social Justice Initiative.
  • Papenfuse retired in December as executive director of the Worker Justice Center of New York, the leading provider of nonprofit legal assistance for farmworkers and low-wage workers in Upstate New York. Papenfuse, who joined the staff of a predecessor group in 1993, led a merger that created the center, which serves 5,000 workers a year.
  • McFetridge, the deputy mayor of Champlain, has tirelessly offered hats, gloves and other warm clothing to refugees fleeing to Canada as they cross the U.S. border in her village. Working six days a week to greet men, women and families seeking asylum, McFetridge—a retired French teacher who is a member of Plattsburgh Cares—waits for taxis that bring migrants who have traveled from across the world to make their way to

Past recipients of the award have included poet Martín Espada; criminal justice advocate Soffiyah Elijah; and actor and activist Danny Glover, among others.

Taína Asili, an Albany-based Puerto Rican singer, songwriter and social justice activist, will perform at the event. Asili has performed for more than 500,000 people at the Women’s March on Washington in 2017 and has shared the stage with artists including Alicia Keys, Janelle Monae and Tom Morello; her songs, which propel listeners to seek social change, focus on themes of love, resistance and ancestral remembrance.

A fundraising reception will be held after the ceremony at the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex Base Lodge. Tickets are $30 each.

In addition, guests can view “Dreaming of Timbuctoo,” an exhibition that chronicles the efforts of black New Yorkers to gain the right to vote in the 1840s that led several families to relocate and settle on 40-acre land grants of Adirondack wilderness.  The exhibition, produced by John Brown Lives! in 2001, was updated and installed permanently at the farm in 2015.

John Brown Day is held annually to mark the birthday of the great abolitionist, who was born May 9, 1800. Brown is best known for the raid he led on the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Va., in 1859 in which he and his followers tried to confiscate weapons to use in an effort to liberate slaves and ultimately dismantle the institution of slavery. Brown, who was captured, tried and executed for treason, is buried at the farm alongside several family members and followers who also fought in the raid.

JOHN BROWN LIVES! (JBL!) is a freedom education and human rights project and Friends Group dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and promotion of the John Brown Farm State Historic Site. JBL! uses the lens, legacies and lessons of the past to inform and inspire civic action to address some of the most pressing issues of our time, from mass incarceration and human trafficking to voting rights and climate justice.Since 1999, JBL! has sponsored surprising collaborations, groundbreaking research, community dialogue, and cultural initiatives that upend conventional narratives, provide portals for oft-avoided conversations, and facilitate examination of our history and for its useful legacies in the present.