What Have We Done?

Artists, veterans, children, and disabled adults work with artists to grapple with tough subjects such as the evolution of slavery and its various contemporary manifestations and other challenges faced by democracies around the world.

Who Was John Brown?

John Brown was an ardent abolitionist and deeply religious white man who, as a young boy, witnessed the beating of a black slave his own age. Born in Connecticut in 1800, he was hanged for treason fifty nine years later. After decades of being centrally involved in the abolition movement, he grew frustrated with prevailing pro-slavery politics.

With financial support from six wealthy patrons, Brown led nineteen followers into Harpers Ferry, Virginia, on October 16, 1859. His objective was to confiscate weapons from a rifle factory and an armory, then sweep across the southern United States, setting free every black slave he encountered. After a three-day battle, during which all but five of his men were killed, Brown was captured. His oration during the trial that followed, his interviews with journalists far and wide, and his letters written in the weeks before his death, brought the issue of slavery to the attention of the nation and the entire world. 

Ironically, this story of John Brown, our country’s first terrorist, has been of great interest to contemporary militant white nationalists even as it inspired non-violent civil rights activism of the 1950s and ’60s. Too few people nowadays are familiar with this fascinating chapter of American history and what it has to teach about the trauma of violence and alternative approaches to creating lasting change.

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