150 years ago, in 1859, John Brown, a white/Euro-American anti-slavery abolitionist, led 21 Africans and white/Euro-Americans in a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown’s plan was to take a large number of guns to use as defensive weapons to defend his greater plan for ending the Southern system of African slavery. That greater plan was not to foment an armed insurrection by enslaved Africans—though most history books assert that Brown did plan such an insurrection.
Brown planned, instead, to create a massive “underground railroad” system similar to that established by Harriet Tubman. However, while Tubman guided smaller groups of Africans out of the South to freedom in Canada, Brown planned to guide thousands to Canada along a route of hidden Appalachian mountaintop bases. He envisioned that, as the South’s enslaved African workforce escaped, the Southern slave system would collapse. Brown’s raid failed, some of his men were killed, while he and others were captured, tried, and executed. Brown hoped his plan would prevent a Civil War, but today his raid is viewed as a pivotal event that sparked the start—2 years later in 1861—of the Civil War, eventually ending slavery.
Today, on its 150th anniversary, we see that Civil War being used once again as a “political football,” with some arguing that the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery. Some are even arguing that the enslavement of Africans “wasn’t so bad,” and some politicians are trying to delete the very mention of slavery’s existence in the United States from public school textbooks and history lessons. In this context, the performances of John Brown’s Truth—as well as the other theater, music, and works of art that recognize the horrific slavery of Africans and their descendants that existed in the U.S.—take on an added weight and meaning in portraying the true history of this land called “The United States.”
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A production of Mimesis, http://www.mimesistheaterarts.com,
a performing arts organization/California non-profit 501(C)3