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Henry is the subject of the 1931 Roark Bradford novel John Henry, illustrated by noted woodcut artist J. Ezra Jack Keats's John Henry: An American Legend, published in 1965, is a notable picture book chronicling the history of John Henry and portraying him as the "personification of the medieval Everyman who struggles against insurmountable odds and wins." Colson Whitehead's 2001 novel John Henry Days uses the John Henry myth as story background.

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Songs featuring the story of John Henry have been recorded by many blues, folk, and rock musicians of different ethnic backgrounds.There is another tradition that John Henry's famous race took place not in West Virginia, but rather near Leeds, Alabama. Railway's Cruzee or Curzey Mountain Tunnel in 1882, and a third letter saying it was at Oak Mountain in 1887, but he discounted these reports after the A. John Henry is a symbol of physical strength and endurance, of exploited labor, of the dignity of a human being against the degradations of the machine age, and of racial pride and solidarity. The story of John Henry is traditionally told through two types of songs: ballads, commonly called "The Ballad of John Henry", and "hammer songs" (a type of work song), each with wide-ranging and varying lyrics.