From his obsession with the founding principles of the United
States to his cold-blooded killings in the battle over slavery's
expansion, John Brown forced his countrymen to reckon with
America's violent history, its checkered progress toward racial
equality, and its resistance to substantive change. Tracing Brown's
legacy through writers and artists like Thomas Hovenden, W. E. B.
Du Bois, Robert Penn Warren, Jacob Lawrence, Kara Walker, and
others, Blake Gilpin transforms Brown from an object of endless
manipulation into a dynamic medium for contemporary beliefs about
the process and purpose of the American republic.
Gilpin argues that the endless distortions of John Brown,
misrepresentations of a man and a cause simultaneously noble and
terrible, have only obscured our understanding of the past and
loosened our grasp of the historical episodes that define America's
struggles for racial equality. By showing Brown's central role in
the relationship between the American past and the American
present, Gilpin clarifies Brown's complex legacy and highlights his
importance in the nation's ongoing struggle with the role of
violence, the meaning of equality, and the intertwining paths these
share with the process of change.