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Soldiers Training

ca. 1942 William H. Johnson Born: Florence, South Carolina 1901 Died: Central Islip, New York 1970 oil on plywood 37 3/4 x 49 1/4 in. (95.9 x 125.1 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Harmon Foundation 1967.59.582 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 4th Floor, 32A

Luce Center Label

Pearl Harbor inspired two government-sponsored art exhibitions in 1942, for which William H. Johnson painted scenes of African Americans involved in the war effort. Soldiers Training contrasts the patriotism of black enlistees with the military’s segregationist policies. Black soldiers served in their own units, “black” blood was kept separate from “white,” and recruits took on the most menial jobs at Army bases and aboard ships. Johnson may have painted this scene based on reports of the “Buffalo Soldiers” who were training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Set in a desolate camp ringed by mountains, Soldiers Training suggests the isolation that black soldiers experienced among hundreds of thousands of men and women committed to winning the war.


Ethnic - African-American

Figure group - male

History - United States - World War II

Object - other - flag

Object - weapon - gun

Occupation - military - soldier


paint - oil

wood - plywood