His Soul Is Marching On

Image credit: Kateri Boucher, Statue at John Brown’s final resting place in North Elba, New York, 2020.

So we wonder, as witnesses to Brown’s life, what it means to be resurrected. Could it simply mean dropping our bodies so fully into the struggles of our time that our souls lag behind, catch in the air, and hold the spirits of our contemporaries with them?

The audio is a transcript of the written piece recorded by Kyle McCormick and Kateri Boucher for Geez Out Loud.

Geez Out Loud · His Soul Is Marching On by Kyle McCormick and Kateri Boucher, Geez 60: Signs of Dawn

John Brown’s body lies
a-mouldering in the grave; (3x)
His soul is marching on!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His soul is marching on!

He’s gone to be a soldier
in the army of the Lord! (3x)
His soul is marching on!
– Sung to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic

John Brown was executed on December 2, 1859 on accounts of treason, murder, and attempted slave insurrection. His body was hung in Charlestown, Virginia, before being transported and laid to rest in his farmland soil of North Elba, New York. It lies there still today. But in the last 161 years, his spirit has been far from still. The legacy of his raid on Harper’s Ferry carried through the country, egging on the start of the Civil War just 16 months after his death and inspiring this popular Union marching song.

When the line of John Brown’s noose split the horizon of Charlestown, Virginia that December morning, it wasn’t his soul that dropped. The body fell, but the soul caught in the air, rose, and remained to lift the spirits of Union soldiers who would later find themselves enlisted in the march towards abolition. These soldiers did not all intend to take up Brown’s liberatory mission. But the ramifications of his raid would leave them conscripted to a cause exceeding the breadth of their own spirits – and it was in this cause that the words of “John Brown’s Body” would attend them.

So we wonder, as witnesses to Brown’s life, what it means to be resurrected. Could it simply mean dropping our bodies so fully into the struggles of our time that our souls lag behind, catch in the air, and hold the spirits of our contemporaries with them? When the lines of “John Brown’s Body” split the air through the voices of Union soldiers, they resonated more than messages of death; they carried the promise and embodiment of resurrection.

Glory, glory, hallelujah! His soul is marching on!

Kyle McCormick is a PhD candidate and chicken wing connoisseur from Detroit, Michigan.

Kateri Boucher is associate editor for Geez and practises hospitality in Detroit’s Catholic Worker house.

Issue 60

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 60, Spring 2021, Signs of Dawn.

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Issue 60, Spring 2021

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