How Tall a Shadow You Can Make

Photograph portrait of Ross D. Brown, cropped close against his face and in half profile. Brown wears a suit and tie. In the original photograph he wears a pin on his lapel, potentially one representing the Socialist Party. This image has been digitized, is bitonal, and so pixelated and not representative of the original or the reproduction.

Ross D. Brown (1885-1965) was a black radical, socialist, poet, activist, orator, organizer, inventor, preacher, author, publisher, and more. Born in Indiana, Brown eventually migrated north to Chicago during the city’s Black Renaissance, publishing over a dozen works of poetry and essay, speaking to thousands of workers all over the country, leading his Bronzeville-based radical church, and actively working for racial, economic, and social justice.

How Tall a Shadow You Can Make seeks to form a hybrid work of biography, theory, poetry, and art, illuminating a life made obscure while exploring black radical traditions, forms of visibility and historical memory, archival silences and violence, photography and digitization practices, and critical pedagogy and care. Furthermore, this project engages in a critical praxis that centers black agency and social justice, while also examining whiteness and confronting the privilege of the project’s author.

In an early poem, “Capitol and Labor,” Brown begins by stating, “A million tongues are calling for my pen” to write about the inhumanity of capitalism and the promise of socialism. It is my hope that this project in some small way can help resound and reaffirm that call, along with Brown’s race-conscious radicalism, a noise as here and necessary as ever.