Danny Glover and Martha Swan

Actor and activist Danny Glover, recipient of a 2016 Spirit of John Brown Freedom Award, with JBL Executive Director Martha Swan.

John Brown Day is an annual event held on the first or second Saturday of May each year.  It is a day that celebrates John Brown’s legacy and honors those that carry his spirit forward.  The day focuses on the Spirit of John Brown Awardees and moving performances by poets, authors, and musical guests that inspire attendees to continue to work for a more just society.

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.  Established in 2016, the award is given annually at John Brown Day.

Past recipients include:

2022 (This is the first year that all three recipients of the award from John Brown Lives! are artists.)

  • Tom Morello, Artist, Activist, Rage Against the Machine guitarist
  • Tiffany Rea-Fisher, Artist, Executive Artistic Director of EMERGE125
  • Karen “Ren” Davidson Seward,  Artist, created the Memorial Field for Black Lives at John Brown Farm

2020 (Awarded in 2021 due to Covid)

  • Nell Painter, visual artist, historian and author
  • Ellen Rocco, retired station manager and founding mother of North Country
    Public Radio
  • Soul Fire Farm, is a BIPOC-centered community farm committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system


  • Dr. Barbara Ransby, author, historian and political activist at the University of Chicago
  • Lewis Papenfuse, former executive director of the Worker Justice Center of New York
  • Janet McFetridge, refugee activist


  • Soffiyah Elijah, executive director, Alliance of Families for Justice
  • Martín Espada, poet
  • Jen Kretser, director of climate initiatives, The Wild Center


  • Aaron Mair, president, The Sierra Club
  • Migrant Justice, immigrant-rights organization
  • Don & Vivian Papson, founders, North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association


  • Danny Glover, actor and activist
  • Alice Green, executive director, Center for Law and Justice
  • Brother Yusuf Abdul-Wasi Burgess, activist and youth leader