Jean Libby's "Portraits of John Brown, the Abolitionist"
No one since the late Boyd B. Stutler has devoted so many years, miles, and dollars to John Brown documentary study and field research as has Jean Libby. From the 1970s, she has made painstaking exploration of primary documents, both written and images, that have made it possible for scholars to better understand Brown's abolitionist networking and activities. It was Libby who first took seriously Osborne Anderson's eyewitness testimony to the Harper's Ferry raid after decades of being slighted and ignored by biographers. It was Libby who radically challenged the slave master propaganda of Brown's alleged failure to attract and involve enslaved blacks at Harper's Ferry--a stubborn error that still has currency today in the study. In more recent years, she has collected, studied, and edited Brown's abolitionist documents, and has made meticulous and tireless study of the extant photographic images, providing the first photographic canon of Brown images in the history of our research. Jean will tell you that she's no biographer, and although this is literally true, her in depth and extensive study of Brown and his family qualifies her as a biographical authority in her own right. As the following note from Jean demonstrates, her research and exhibitions pertaining to Brown's images have enjoyed wide recognition, especially since the Harper's Ferry sesquicentennial two years ago. Her book, John Brown Photo Chronology (Palo Alto, Calif.: Allies for Freedom Publishers, 2009) is the catalog of the exhibition at Harper's Ferry, and is indispensable for students, scholars, and researchers. I have received this communication from Jean, in which is also a link for my readers to download her review essay, "Portraits of John Brown, the Abolitionist." I would like to thank her for making this accessible to my readers.--LD
The sesquicentennial of the John Brown raid in October 2009 inspired institutional online exhibitions from the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the Virginia History Society as well as my own authored John Brown Photo Chronology, which is on continued display at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Other exhibitions which include John Brown but are not solely about him are reviewed for content.
The issue of language often used to describe John Brown is addressed in this review essay, which includes full academic references and illustrations which are properly permitted.
Thank you to the staff of the Harpers Ferry NHP for conducting an informal survey of visitor response to the portraits of John Brown at the museum, and to Andrea Reidell, Education Program Coordinator for The National Archives at Philadelphia, who integrated the traveling copy of the John Brown Photo Chronology into a lesson plan for high school students
All are welcome to download and cite the copyrighted essay as desired.1
Jean Libby, editor
Allies for Freedom