Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice

Lonne G. Bunch III

    ISBN: 9781785515354

    Size: 254 x 305 mm

    Binding: Paperback

    Pages: 176

    In association with:

    Date published: January, 2024

    Date published: February, 2024

    UK £25.00 /US $34.95


The first book to celebrate painter William H. Johnson’s Fighters for Freedom series, a tribute to African American heroes who worked to achieve social justice.

This book accompanies major exhibitions at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, March 8 – September 8, 2024, Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami FL, September 28, 2024 – January 5, 2025, Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, NC, September 6 – November 29, 2025, and Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, OH, June 20 – September 13, 2026.


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.

Some of his Fighters — Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Marian Anderson, and Mohandas Gandhi — are familiar historical figures; others are less well-known individuals. Johnson elevates their lives visually, offering historical insights and fresh perspectives

Through their stories he suggests that the pursuit of freedom is an ongoing, interconnected struggle, with moments of both triumph and tragedy, and he invites us to reflect on our own struggles for justice today.

In Fighters for Freedom Johnson reminds us that individual achievement and commitment to social justice are at the heart of the American story.


Author information

Lonnie G. Bunch III is the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian, a position he assumed in June 2019. Previously, Bunch was the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Virginia Mecklenburg is senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.