Historical Scene

Media - 1967.59.646 - SAAM-1967.59.646_2 - 141131
Copied William H. Johnson, Historical Scene, ca. 1945, oil on hardboard (Masonite), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.646

Artwork Details

Historical Scene
ca. 1945
Not on view
39 1837 18 in. (99.394.3 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums Description
oil on hardboard (Masonite)
  • History — United States
  • Figure group
  • Architecture
  • African-American
  • African American
Object Number

Artwork Description

The Rev. M. J. Divine (1876--1965), known as Father Divine, created the International Peace Mission Movement in the early twentieth century. A dynamic preacher, he advocated racial integration, universal peace, abstinence from alcohol and smoking, and celibacy. His followers lauded Father Divine as God incarnate and adhered to these strict tenets. His popularity skyrocketed during the Great Depression when, as part of its Holy Communion ritual, the Peace Mission hosted banquets that provided much needed food for followers and visitors.
In Historical Scene Johnson portrays Father Divine wearing a green suit with yellow socks and tie. His wife, Peninnah (Mother Divine), dressed in blue, stands opposite a group of devoted followers, called Mission Angels. The Peace Mission grew nationally and internationally throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Across the top half of the painting are buildings the Peace Mission used as communal homes or offices. The exuberant women and multiracial waving hands in the bottom corners were probably inspired by March of Time newsreel coverage of the Mission's 1936 rally in New York City.


Media - 1983.95.53 - SAAM-1983.95.53_2 - 142417
Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice
October 13, 2023February 25, 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 heads of state working to bring peace to the world. The exhibition Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice is drawn entirely from the collection of more than 1,000 works by William H. Johnson given to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by the Harmon Foundation in 1967 and reminds us that individual achievement and commitment to social justice are at the heart of the American story.