Title: Black Thunder: Gabriels Revolt: Virginia: 1800

Photographer: Edward Steichen
Author: Arna Bontemps
Publisher: Beacon Press
Designer: not listed


Image Title: after 'Paul Robeson as the Emperor Jones' 1933
Photo Genre: Portrait
Book Genre: Historical novel

  Black Thunder is Harlem Renaissance writer Arna Bontemps' 1936 fictionalization of an actual  historical event: the failed and fatal attempt by slave Gabriel Prosser to, in the year 1800, create via insurrection an independent negro state in Virginia and establish himself as its king. The 1969 Beacon Press edition of Bontemps' novel features a cover based on Edward Steichen's 1933 portrait of Paul Robeson in Eugene O'Neill's play The Emperor Jones. Some parallel may be drawn between Bontemps' book and O'Neill's play, in which Robeson plays lead character Brutus Jones, who, following a murder, flees to a Caribbean Island and proclaims himself emperor.

  The unattributed artist for this cover has made what is most likely an ink drawing from Steichen's photograph, flipping it horizontally and eliminating the epaulet and high military collar of the original. Although the cover's subject, presumably Prosser, may not be sporting a hairstyle common to a bondsman at the turn of the 19th century, and no longer posseses the haughty, delusional look of Robeson's character, his suspicious glare remains intact.


 Click on Point of Interest, at right, to see a biography of Paul Robeson with Steichen's original on its cover.