When abolitionist John Brown led a group of fighters to storm the federal armory of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., he single-handedly wrote a page of American history that is still discussed a century and a half later. Brown’s radical actions of Oct. 16, 1859, were intended as a well-armed insurrection to end all slavery. Instead, he was charged with treason while the nation was pitched into an even deeper slavery debate that a year later led to secession and eventually the Civil War.
|Norman Thomas Marshall in “John Brown: |
Trumpet of Freedom” (Photo by Robert Rattner)
|Norman Thomas Marshall|
The play challenges the tradition of Brown’s role in history as that of a mentally unbalanced fanatic and argues that he is, in fact, a uniquely heroic figure.
“John Brown deserves an important place in American History,” notes Marshall. “To paraphrase William C. Davis of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, the most widely published Civil War historian of our time, one cannot really understand American history without understanding the role played by a John Brown, that Brown is a crossroads through which passes all of American history. History aside, Brown is a character who is well-suited to the dramatic form. The story of his life naturally and easily fits the form of Greek tragedy. Theater audiences are inevitably deeply moved by the story of his dedication to the plight of his despised fellow creatures.