History, Research, and Current Themes

"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Dear Norman,

This is just a short note to thank you so much for your powerful presentation of "John Brown and the Trumpet of Freedom" at the teacher╩╝s seminar that we taught at Yale University last July. It was not only greatly entertaining, it was also a major educational resource for the seminar. You are a fine actor, and your knowledge and extensive understanding of your subject are particularly striking and greatly informative.

During the discussions in the days following your performance, the teachers made clear their great appreciation for the insights you provided on John Brown and his critical role in American history. They were certain that yours was a significant contribution to their teaching, satisfying much of their curiosity related to Brown╩╝s philosophy and the broad impact of his actions in the years leading to the Civil War. We thank you so much for your valuable contribution to our seminar.

Yours truly and gratefully,

Jim and Lois Horton

James O. Horton
Benjamin Banneker Professor Emeritus of American Studies and History,
George Washington University

Lois E. Horton
Professor of History Emerita
George Mason University


As we approach the sesquicentennial of the Harpers Ferry raid and the Civil War it ignited, John Brown’s central place in American history is becoming increasingly recognized. Bestselling books such as Russell Banks’ Cloudsplitter and David Reynolds’ John Brown, Abolitionist have offered readers valuable verbal portraits of the fiery abolitionist, but John Brown: Trumpet of Freedom brings him to life in flesh and blood. Beyond mere acting, Marshall’s portrayal is something closer to possession. Harrowing, inspiring, and surprisingly humorous, this is a show that must not be missed.

Robert P. Forbes, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of History and American Studies
University of Connecticut – Torrington

As a historian who has done extensive research on John Brown, I found the portrayal [of "John Brown: Trumpet of Freedom"] deeply moving and extraordinarily accurate. In fact, Mr. Marshall can be said to channel the spirit of John Brown in his performance.

The play begins with focus on a noose -- the instrument of Brown's death -- and Mr. Marshall singing as he strides onto the stage. It is extremely arresting. The body of the play is a monologue on Brown's evolution from antislavery partisan to an abolitionist warrior-prophet. He does not shy away from Brown's deeds, but explains them contextually and morally. Marshall's Brown apologizes for nothing, and lays out precisely why the traditional tactics of the abolitionist movement (prayer, moral suasion) were inadequate for eradicating slavery.

I also had the pleasure of "introducing" Mr. Marshall as John Brown in Topeka, Kansas. I can't speak for Mr. Marshall, but for me the experience (taking place in Kansas and in the week before a world-premiere of an opera about Brown) was extremely memorable. I cannot think of a better subject or participant for a tour of our nation's historically black colleges during the sesquicentennial of Brown's Harpers Ferry raid than Mr. Marshall's excellent show.

Jonathan Earl, author of John Brown's Raid: A Brief History With Documents