John Brown's Legacy

Historical content: 
The New Deal and World War II
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Sourcing



Use the source information, your knowledge of history, and the poster to answer the questions below.


This is a poster for a play written in 1936 that celebrates the abolitionist John Brown, who tried to start a slave revolt in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859.

Question 1: When was the play written?

Question 2: Which two of the facts below might help explain why the authors wrote this play?

1. Slaves made up nearly 40% of Virginia’s population in 1859.
2. One of the play’s authors, Michael Gold, was a member of the Communist Party, which protested against lynching in the 1930s.
3. After taking power in 1933, Adolf Hitler enacted racist policies in Germany.
4. After seceding from the Union in 1861, Virginia became the largest state in the Confederacy and the home of its capital, Richmond.

About the Assessment

This assessment gauges students' ability to source and contextualize a document. Students must first situate a playbill in time.  Students then select facts that might provide relevant historical context for determining the authors' motivation and explain how the facts might shed light on why the authors wrote the play. 

This student selects a fact and explains why it might be relevant for determining why Michael Blankfort and Michael Gold wrote a play about John Brown in the 1930s.