Collection Summary

The John Brown's Holy War Interview Collection is comprised of 41 raw interviews conducted in 2000 for the American Experience film of the same name. The interviews examined the enigmatic life, history, myth, and legacy of abolitionist John Brown, one of the most controversial figures in American history. John Brown's Holy War outlines John Brown's life, role in the abolition movement, unsuccessful raid on the Harpers Ferry federal armory, death, and subsequent entry into American lore as both villain and martyr during the American Civil War. Interviews were conducted with historians, authors, and educators, including James Horton, Professor of American Studies and History at George Washington University; Paul Finkelman, historian of American law; Margaret Washington, historian and Professor of History at Cornell University; and Russell Banks, novelist. Interviews feature a range of topics, including abolition, philosophy, enslavement, race, Christianity, economics, mental health, journalism, the Dred Scott Decision, Frederick Douglass, Pre-Civil War American politics, the Harpers Ferry attack, and the American Civil War.

Collection Background

The John Brown's Holy War interviews were conducted in 2000 for the American Experience documentary of the same name, directed by Robert Kenner. American Experience, PBS' flagship history documentary series, premiered in 1988 and is produced at WGBH in Boston. In 2017, the WGBH Media Library and Archives digitized the John Brown's Holy War interviews and in 2018 submitted them to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting.