The painting Moon over Harlem by William H. Johnson, circa 1943-1944.
William H. Johnson’s painting Moon over Harlem commemorates the Harlem Riot of 1943. The riot began after Robert Bandy, an African American soldier, witnessed a black woman's arrest for disorderly conduct in a hotel. Police claimed Bandy assaulted the officer, who then shot Bandy as he fled. Bystanders mistakenly reported that Bandy died at the hospital, leading to two days of protests and the destruction of white-owned businesses in Harlem. Residents were responding to longstanding conditions, including political disenfranchisement, employment discrimination, segregation in the US military, wartime food shortages, and police brutality by predominantly white officers.
William H. Johnson (1901-1970) was an African American painter born in Florence, South Carolina. He studied art at the National Academy of Design in New York City before moving to Europe, where he was influenced by modernist art and Scandinavian folk art. A collection of his paintings, watercolors, and prints is held by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.