Alice Keesey Mecoy was 16 when a historian told her she was a descendant of radical abolitionist John Brown.
She reacted the same way many people do.
"Oh, you mean the crazy guy?" Mecoy, now 48, said with a chuckle Friday as she talked about her great-great-great-grandfather.
Mecoy, of Allen, Texas, visited Black Jack Battlefield east of Baldwin City, the site where on June 2, 1856, Brown led a group of Free-State men into battle against a pro-slavery militia. Brown won. Many historians consider Black Jack to be the first battle of the Civil War.
Mecoy has spent 20 years researching Brown. She no longer thinks the man who thought he could spur an uprising of slaves by raiding Harper's Ferry was crazy.
"He was ahead of his time. He was a visionary," she said.
There was more to Brown than a hatred of slavery, Mecoy said. Brown, she said, believed in equality for all men - and women - no matter what their race. He wanted his sons to know how to do women's work, and his daughters to be able to do the work of men.
"He was so radical in what he thought. I think a lot of people misunderstood him at the time," Mecoy said.
Brown's notoriety also stemmed from Bleeding Kansas era incidents such as the Pottawatomie Massacre, during which five pro-slavery settlers were killed in Franklin County. Similar incidents occurred on both sides.
"I understand they were afraid for their lives, being anti-slavery in Kansas, I don't understand war, though," Mecoy said.
Mecoy is visiting Kansas and retracing some of Brown's steps for the first time. She hoped to visit the massacre site as well as Adair Cabin in Osawatomie. The cabin was where Brown sometimes stayed when he was in town. It is now a museum.
Tonight, Mecoy and her husband, Fred Mecoy, will be guests at the premiere of "John Brown," an opera to be performed at the Lyric Opera in Kansas City, Mo. The opera runs through May 11 and will be in Lawrence later this year.
"I'm very excited," Mecoy said. "I can't wait to see it."
Mecoy is continuing her research into Brown and his descendants. She thinks she might write a book focusing on the Brown women, such as daughter Annie Brown. Annie forbid her family from talking about their relationship to Brown because she was upset with the way the nation perceived her father, Mecoy said. Although that silence has loosened, many of her relatives today still don't talk about Brown, which was why she didn't know about Brown until the historian told her.
"I'm fascinated by him," Mecoy said. "He's such an important part of history."
Next year Mecoy and other relatives will attend a Harper's Ferry sesquicentennial event. She is trying to find other Brown descendants. They can contact her by e-mail at email@example.com.