John Brown Lives! was founded in 1999 by Martha Swan, whose passion and vision continues to drive the organization today. Since its inception, JBL! has tapped into and cultivated an appetite for humanities-oriented lectures, exhibits, commemorative milestones, author events and performances, community conversations and teacher-student programs that help people understand the intersection between history and human rights.
One of our earliest projects is also one of our most enduring. In 2001, we launched “Dreaming of Timbuctoo,” a traveling exhibit that told the story of a radical plan to give 120,000 acres of Adirondack land to 3,000 black New Yorkers—effectively circumventing state laws restricting the vote to landowners. Curated by historian Amy Godine, the exhibit has been seen by thousands as it has been installed in museums, schools, universities and even a penitentiary.
As we approached our 20th anniversary, we began to forge a stronger connection with the John Brown Farm State Historic Site. In 2016, we became an official Friends Group at the site, and began programming more events meant to preserve, interpret and promote Brown’s home and final resting place.
JBL! added the “Spirit of John Brown Freedom Award” to the annual John Brown Day celebration that occurs every May. Our Blues at Timbuctoo Concert and Conversation attracts new and diverse audiences to the John Brown farm each fall, and in 2016, we installed a permanent “Dreaming of Timbuctoo” exhibit at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site. Additionally, JBL! has begun to offer summer programming for children, families and adults at the Farm.