Theater Poster for a Play About John Brown
John Brown, abolitionist architect of the 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, remains one of the most confounding figures in nineteenth-century American history. For decades after the Civil War, historians settled into an interpretation of Brown as a madman whose actions a "bungling generation" of politicians (to quote the historian James Garfield Randall) could not prevent from spilling over into civil war. It was not until the turn of the nineteenth century, partly in opposition to new southern segregation laws, that a few biographies appeared, defending Brown's career as an advocate for racial equality. It is in that vein that he is remembered here, in the poster for a New Deal-era production of the Federal Theatre Project, "Battle Hymn."