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A Ride for Liberty -- The Fugitive Slaves (recto)
Accession # 40.59a-b
Artist Eastman Johnson
Title A Ride for Liberty -- The Fugitive Slaves (recto)
Date ca. 1862
Medium Oil on paperboard
Dimensions 21 15/16 x 26 1/8 in. (55.8 x 66.4 cm) frame: 3 x 30 x 35 in. (7.6 x 76.2 x 88.9 cm) frame: 32 7/16 x 36 5/8 in. (82.4 x 93 cm)
Signed Signed lower right: "E. J."
Credit Line Gift of Gwendolyn O. L. Conkling
Location American Identities: Expanding Horizons

Curatorial Remarks: In this composition, Eastman Johnson portrayed an enslaved family charging for the safety of Union lines in the dull light of dawn. The absence of white figures in this liberation subject makes it virtually unique in art of the period—these African Americans are independent agents of their own freedom. Johnson claimed to have based the painting on an actual event he witnessed near the Manassas, Virginia, battlefield on March 2, 1862, just days before the Confederate stronghold was ceded to Union forces.

In agony close to her bosom she press’d The life of her heart, the child of her breast:— Oh! love from its tenderness gathering might, Had strengthen’d her soul for the dangers of flight. But she’s free!—yes, free from the land where the slave From the hand of oppression must rest in the grave; Where bondage and torture, where scourges and chains Have plac’d on our banner indelible stains.
—Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (African American poet), “Eliza Harris” (1854)