The Untold Story of Shields Green
The Life and Death of a Harper's Ferry Raider
Published by: NYU Press
14 b/w illustrations
- ISBN: 9781479802807
- Published: October 2020
Explores the life of Shields Green, one of the Black men who followed John Brown to Harper’s Ferry in 1859
When John Brown decided to raid the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry as the starting point of his intended liberation effort in the South, some closest to him thought it was unnecessary and dangerous. Frederick Douglass, a pioneering abolitionist, refused Brown’s invitation to join him in Virginia, believing that the raid on the armory was a suicide mission. Yet in front of Douglass, “Emperor” Shields Green, a fugitive from South Carolina, accepted John Brown’s invitation. When the raid failed, Emperor was captured with the rest of Brown’s surviving men and hanged on December 16, 1859.
“Emperor” Shields Green was a critical member of John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raiders but has long been overlooked. Louis DeCaro, Jr., a veteran scholar of John Brown, presents the first effort to tell Emperor’s story based upon extensive research, restoring him to his rightful place in this fateful raid at the origin of the American Civil War. Starting from his birth in Charleston, South Carolina, Green’s life as an abolitionist freedom-fighter, whose passion for the liberation of his people outweighed self-preservation, is extensively detailed in this compact history. In The Untold Story of Shields Green, Emperor pushes back against racism and injustice and stands in his rightful place as an antislavery figure alongside Frederick Douglass and John Brown.
DeCaro seeks to rescue the story of one Black raider, 'Emperor' Shields Green from history’s shadows…DeCaro does an excellent job interrogating the sources, and attempting to find the real Green among the racist stereotypes and language found in both Southern and Northern newspapers. What emerges is a portrait of a man willing to die if it meant an end to slavery. ~Library Journal
Louis DeCaro deftly centers Shields Green in a momentous historical episode. In deciding his fate in the raid on Harper’s Ferry, Green said “I go wid de ole man,” and DeCaro goes with Green, carefully weighing the speculations about his subject as he crafts a broader tapestry of those turbulent times. A splendid piece of Americana. ~Herb Boyd, author of Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination
The stories of the Black members of John Brown’s Harpers Ferry company have too long been shrouded in obscurity and myth. Scholarship about them has finally, in the 21st century, revealed their truth. And among those engaged in that scholarship, Louis DeCaro stands out! His dedication to the true story of Shields Green is second to none. The Untold Story of Shields Green is a revelation for anyone interested in the complete and true history of the struggle to end slavery in America. ~Danny Glover, actor
Louis DeCaro brings Shields Green to life. A long-overlooked figure, he has raised him to his rightful place of importance, unearthing the details of his life and illuminating them like no one has before. This book changes the way we look at John Brown, Frederick Douglass and slavery itself. ~Kevin Wilmott, The University of Kansas