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Jacob Lawrence:  Heroes

Toussaint L'Ouverture

Francois Dominique Toussaint was born a slave in Haiti.  He was a smart young man and his owner allowed him to get an education so he could become a servant in his house.  It was unusual for slaves to be taught to read and write, but Toussaint read as many books as he could.  One of  the people he read about was Julius Caesar who commanded a large army and won many wars.  When there was an uprising of slaves against their owners, Toussaint helped the master who had been kind to him to escape with his family.  Then Toussaint led the other slaves in battles against the French soldiers who were trying to rule Haiti and would not allow an end to slavery.  Toussaint was such a skillful general that he was able to win many battles.  For this he was called "L'Ouverture", which meant, in French, that he could make an "opening" in the lines of the enemy soldiers he was fighting.  He was able to defeat them, even when they had better weapons and more men than he did.  Napoleon, who was the emperor of France, said he would make peace with Toussaint.  But he lied and put Toussaint in a dungeon.  Toussaint said when Napoleon captured him, "In arresting me, you've only pulled down the trunk of the tree of freedom; it will outgrow from its roots for they are deep and numerous".  He was right.  Six months after Toussaint L'Ouverture died in a French  prison, Napoleon's soldiers gave up and left Haiti.  It became the first free black republic in the western hemisphere in 1804.

From Brooklyn College Portraits

Here is another picture of Toussaint L'Ouverture.  It is in a realistic style.  Jacob Lawrence painted in a style called abstract.  Abstract art uses colors and shapes to show meanings and ideas about the subject.  Abstract artists aren't trying to make their subjects look real.  Instead, they want you to think about them yourself and figure out what  the pictures are about.

What do you think Jacob Lawrence wanted you to understand about Toussaint L'Ouverture when he painted him riding on his horse?  What ideas and feelings do you get when you look at his picture?

Toussaint L'Ouverture was using figurative language when he said that Napoleon pulled down the trunk of the tree of freedom, but the roots would continue to grow.  What do you think he meant by that?  Who was the "trunk"?  What  were the "roots of freedom"?

Here are some more things you can read about Toussaint L'Ouverture.
Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom, by Jacob Lawrence
Published:  Simon and Schuster Children's, 1996
ISBN (Identification Number) 0689801262

Toussaint L'Ouverture, Lover of Liberty, by Laurence Santrey, Gershom Griffith
Published:  Troll Books,  1994
ISBN (Identification Number) 0816728240 
  Web Sites
This article has interesting details about Toussaint L'Ouverture's life:

Here is a brief biography (scroll down the page to find his name) :

Painting by Jacob Lawrence, 1955
Painting by Henry Pelham, 1770
Crispus Attucks

In 1770 British soldiers were sent by the King of England to enforce the laws that the American colonists did not want to obey.  The colonists were especially angry about having to pay high taxes to England and there was talk of going to war.  There had been many complaints about the soldiers rough treatment of the people of Boston and when it was reported that a young boy had been beaten, a mob of angry men went out looking for them.  They waved sticks and threw snowballs at the British soldiers and shouted insults at them.

Crispus Attacks was a slave who had run away from a farm in Massachusetts.  He found work as a sailor on whaling ships and he was also a rope maker in Boston. Crispus Attacks was described as very big and strong man.  A witness said that when the soldiers raised their rifles, Crispus Attucks "with one hand took hold of a bayonet, and with the other knocked the man down."  The soldiers then opened fire, killing him and four other men.

It was called the Boston Massacre because none of the colonists had guns and it was said at the trial of the British soldiers that they had over reacted and should be found guilty of murdering the five men.  The soldiers were not found guilty of murder and this caused more anger against the British.

Crispus Attucks was buried as a hero in the white people's cemetery and a monument was built to honor him as "the first to defy, the first to die"  in the war for independence that America fought to become a free country.

These two very different looking pictures were both painted to illustrate this event in our country's history.  Using his abstract style, Jacob Lawrence tries to get us to understand the subject.  How do you think Crispus Attacks felt at that time?   Henry Pelham painted the scene of the Boston Massacre realistically, as he saw it.  He was there that day, and as a witness to the event, he is a primary source of information about what happened.  Which details of his painting might have been used as evidence in the trial of the British soldiers?   

You can read more about Crispus Attucks.
Crispus Attucks: Black Leader of Colonial Patriots, by Dharathula H. Millender, Gray Morrow (Illustrator)
Published:  Simon and Schuster Children's, 1982
ISBN (Identification Number) 0020418108

Cost of Freedom: Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre, by Joanne Mattern
Published:  Rosen Publishing, 2004
ISBN (Identification Number): 0823943410
Web Sites
You can see a portrait of Crispus Attacks and read more about him:

Here is an explanation of the Boston Massacre and Henry Pelham's picture of it:

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman hated being a slave and made up her mind to run away as soon as she could.  What was so extraordinary about her was that she came back and risked her life to help others escape.  Harriet made 19 trips back and forth from the plantations in the south to the cities where slaves could find freedom in the north.  She led over 300 people out of slavery, bringing them as far as Canada. She was called the Black Moses after the man in the bible who led the slaves out of Egypt. 

She was also called the General because she led the slaves like soldiers. She warned them that she would have to shoot any one of them who would not follow her orders.  She would not allow them to turn back because if they were caught that would give evidence of where they were going and put every one in danger.  She and the slaves who trusted in her could have been captured and killed.  A reward of $40,000 was offered to bring her back, dead or alive.

When the Civil War started, Harriet Tubman helped the army of the north by going back as a spy to get information that would help in planning attacks against the army in the south that was fighting to keep slavery.  She also served as a nurse, helping hurt and sick soldiers.  When the war was won and slavery ended, Harriet Tubman spent the rest of her life speaking out and trying to get equal rights for black people and for women.

Cameras had been invented during Harriet Tubman's lifetime so we can see how she actually looked in this photograph which was taken in her old age. Compare it to Jacob Lawrence's painting of her. He exaggerated the size and shape of her body, especially her arms and hands. What was Jacob Lawrence trying to show us about Harriet Tubman's strength? What does the way she is posed, working, tell us about her skills and ability? What did Jacob Lawrence want us to understand about Harriet Tubman's character and personality?

To learn more about Harriet Tubman you can read.

Harriet and the Promised Land, by Jacob Lawrence
Published:  Simon and Schuster Children's, 1996
ISBN (Identification Number) 0689809654

Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman, by Alan Schroeder
Published: Puffin, 2000
ISBN (Identification Number) 014056196X

Harriet Tubman, by George Sullivan
Published: Scholastic, 2002
ISBN (Identification Number) 0439165849

Web Sites
There are interesting pictures and stories about Harriet Tubman's life at this site:

You can see the decisions a runaway slave had to make at this site about the underground railroad:

This site has a brief biography of Harriet Tubman and links to more information: