John Brown Still Lives!

America’s Long Reckoning with Violence, Equality, and Change

By R. Blakeslee Gilpin

296 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 32 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1395-6
    Published: February 2014
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6927-7
    Published: November 2011
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8612-5
    Published: November 2011

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Awards & distinctions

Finalist, 2012 Frederick Douglass Book Prize, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition

2010 C. Vann Woodward Dissertation Prize, Southern Historical Association

From his obsession with the founding principles of the United States to his cold-blooded killings in the battle over slavery's expansion, John Brown forced his countrymen to reckon with America's violent history, its checkered progress toward racial equality, and its resistance to substantive change. Tracing Brown's legacy through writers and artists like Thomas Hovenden, W. E. B. Du Bois, Robert Penn Warren, Jacob Lawrence, Kara Walker, and others, Blake Gilpin transforms Brown from an object of endless manipulation into a dynamic medium for contemporary beliefs about the process and purpose of the American republic.

Gilpin argues that the endless distortions of John Brown, misrepresentations of a man and a cause simultaneously noble and terrible, have only obscured our understanding of the past and loosened our grasp of the historical episodes that define America's struggles for racial equality. By showing Brown's central role in the relationship between the American past and the American present, Gilpin clarifies Brown's complex legacy and highlights his importance in the nation's ongoing struggle with the role of violence, the meaning of equality, and the intertwining paths these share with the process of change.

About the Author

R. Blakeslee Gilpin is visiting assistant professor of history at the University of South Carolina. He is a past fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and at the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For more information about R. Blakeslee Gilpin, visit the Author Page.


"[Gilpin's] analysis is pointed and pertinent. University students will especially profit from his resurrections of Brown."--Library Journal

"Gilpin's book is an outstanding contribution to the growing body of work on historical memory."--American Historical Review

“Gilpin provides a compelling analysis of an important topic.”--West Virginia History

“Gilpin’s book shows . . . that John Brown remains a lightning rod in American culture, and the wildly divergent opinions of Brown are a testament to the power of history to define a man, his ideals, and his nation.”--Kansas History

“Another fascinating study of how Americans have considered violence and change through their memories of one man and one event. . . . An excellent book.”--Journal of Southern History

“[A] fine study. . . . [that] examine[s] with equal sophistication the diverse forms in which Brown has become a vehicle for some of the most pressing ideological debates in American political culture.”--Journal of American History