John Brown fought to abolish slavery; his heroic life and his death in 1859 have inspired many artists. In 1941 Jacob Lawrence painted a series of twenty-two gouaches on this theme, the only depiction of the abolitionist’s story in serial form; these were acquired by the DIA in 1955. Due to frequent loan requests for the fragile gouaches, the DIA worked with Jacob Lawrence to reproduce the series as screenprints so that the images could be more widely seen.

Jacob Lawrence wrote captions for each of his images in the John Brown series, adapting them from a nineteenth-century biography and imbuing them with the sound of old-fashioned speech. Here John Brown is seen arming men in New York state to help them protect runaway slaves.
Artist Jacob Lawrence, American, 1917-2000
Printer Sirocco Screenprinters, American
Publisher Founders Society
Publisher Ives-Sillman, Inc., American, founded 1958
  • John Brown formed an organization among the colored people of the Adirondack woods to resist the capture of any fugitive
Date between 1974 and 1977
Medium screenprint printed in color on wove paper
Dimensions Image: 20 × 14 inches (50.8 × 35.6 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, Commissioned by Founders Society Detroit Institute of Arts, 1978
Accession Number F1983.18.6
Department African American Art
Not On View
Signed Signed, lower right: Jacob Lawrence 1977
Marks Two chop marks at lower right corner, to the left: Ives-Sillman Inc; to the right: Founders Society Detroit Institute of Arts
Inscriptions Inscribed in pencil, lower left: #6 7/60
Signed and dated in pencil, lower right: Jacob Lawrence 1977
1983-present, gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Sharp, Ellen. "The Legend of John Brown and the Series by Jacob Lawrence." Bulletin of the DIA 67, no. 4 (1993): 15-35.

Jacob Lawrence: Thirty Years of Prints (1963-1993) A Catalogue Raisonné. Seattle and London, 1994, pp. 38-40 (ill.).