"Imagine my surprise when we were students in American History class learning about how John Brown was crazy and all the men with him were as crazy as he was."
The keynote speaker was Franny Nudelman, a professor at Carleton University and author of "John Brown's Body: slavery, violence, and the culture of war." She spoke about the stark differences of how Brown's corpse was treated in comparison with those of Copeland and the other free blacks who participated in the raid.
While Brown's body was reluctantly relinquished to his family for burial, Nudelman explained, Copeland's family, suffered the indignity of his body being stolen by medical students and dissected for anatomical study, a fate common in those days for the poor and minorities.
Though his family managed to dissuade abolitionists from parading it through the streets of northern cities, Brown's body still became a symbol subject of an abolitionist song.
"By contrast, when 3,000 people gathered at an Oberlin chapel to mourn the death of John Copeland, it was over an empty casket," said Nudelman.
Students from Newcomb Central School performed "Take it to the Top," a rap song they wrote about slavery, and three students from James P. Duffy School No. 12's Frederick Douglass Club traveled all the way from Rochester to perform dramatic recitations of Douglass' speeches.