Choreographers responded to persistent racial injustice in America with works about the abolition movement and radical abolitionist John Brown (1800–1859). In his desire to abolish slavery, Brown and a group of followers attacked Virginia’s Harpers Ferry Armory in October 1859. Brown was caught and tried for treason, murder, and for inciting the insurrection of slaves and was hung in December 1859.
In 1933, Ted Shawn created a solo, John Brown Sees the Glory. Shawn called it “the white abolitionist’s ‘fanatic biography’ through a visionary encounter with God.” In 1945, modern dancer and choreographer Erick Hawkins (1909–1994) performed his work, John Brown, in a program that included the New York premiere of Martha Graham’s iconic and uplifting work Appalachian Spring.