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William H. Johnson painted his Fighters for Freedom series in the mid-1940s as a tribute to African American activists, scientists, teachers, and performers as well as international heads of state working to bring peace to the world. He celebrated their accomplishments even as he acknowledged the realities of racism, violence, and oppression they faced and overcame. Some of his Fighters—Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Marian Anderson, and Mahatma Gandhi—are familiar historical figures; others are less well-known individuals whose determination and sacrifice have been eclipsed over time. Drawn entirely from the collection of more than 1,000 works by Johnson given to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by the Harmon Foundation in 1967, this exhibition is the first-ever presentation of this series in Johnson’s home state of South Carolina.
Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from Art Bridges, Faye and Robert Davidson, and the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation.
The presentation of this exhibition at the Gibbes is made possible through the generous support of the Wayne and Carolyn Jones Charitable Foundation, with additional support from Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, Jane Smith Turner Foundation, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, South Carolina Arts Commission, and the Gibbes Women’s Council.