Booker T. Washington Legend

William H. Johnson, Booker T. Washington Legend, ca. 1944-1945, oil on plywood, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.664
Copied William H. Johnson, Booker T. Washington Legend, ca. 1944-1945, oil on plywood, 32 5825 14 in. (82.964.1 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.664

Artwork Details

Title
Booker T. Washington Legend
Date
ca. 1944-1945
Dimensions
32 5825 14 in. (82.964.1 cm.)
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on plywood
Classifications
Keywords
  • Figure group
  • African American
  • Occupation — education — student
  • Portrait male — Washington, Booker T.
Object Number
1967.59.664

Artwork Description

Johnson presents a formally dressed Booker T. Washington (1856--1915) addressing a coeducational class of Black students. He is framed by a blackboard on which a saw, trowel, and hammer represent the building trades. A rake, shovels, and other farm implements attest to Tuskegee's importance as a center for agricultural research. (Washington hired George Washington Carver to run the agriculture program in 1896.) Opposite, an artist's palette, an inkwell, and musical instruments symbolize the liberal arts. 

For Washington, education was crucial to the economic and social advancement of African Americans. In his autobiography Up from Slavery, he told of his early years on a Virginia tobacco plantation and his adolescence working in a West Virginia coal mine. Only after his four-to-nine a.m. shift was over was he allowed to go to school. Determined to get a formal education, Washington walked five hundred miles to Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), where he proved to be a star student. Seven years later, he was invited to teach at Hampton. In 1881 he launched the Tuskegee Normal and Agricultural Institute in Alabama.

Exhibitions

Media - 1967.59.1146 - SAAM-1967.59.1146_2 - 141130
Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice
March 8, 2024September 10, 2024
William H. Johnson's Fighters for Freedom series from the mid-1940s is a tribute to African American activists, scientists, teachers, and performers as well as international leaders working to bring peace to the world.