Soldiers Training

Media - 1967.59.582 - SAAM-1967.59.582_1 - 148855
Copied William H. Johnson, Soldiers Training, ca. 1942, oil on plywood, 37 3449 14 in. (95.9125.1 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.582

Artwork Details

Soldiers Training
ca. 1942
37 3449 14 in. (95.9125.1 cm.)
lower right in oil: W.H. Johnson back upper center in grease crayon: W.H. JOHNSON back lower left in felt-tipped pen and ink: #582 NCFA cat.
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums Description
oil on plywood
  • Group
  • Figure group — male
  • African American
  • History — United States — World War II
  • Occupation — military — soldier
  • Object — other — flag
  • Object — weapon — gun
Object Number

Artwork Description

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.