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The Way We Was

1990 Herbert Singleton Born: New Orleans, Louisiana 1945 Died: New Orleans, Louisiana 2007 carved and painted wood, metal locks and hinges 97 x 38 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. (246.4 x 97.8 x 6.4 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Chuck and Jan Rosenak and museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment 1997.124.88 Smithsonian American Art Museum
1st Floor, West Wing

Gallery Label

Singleton carved and painted this visual protest against racism in America on an old door. A black nanny cradles a white baby, a slave master holds a whip, slaves carry cotton, and a Klansman oversees a lynching. A dancing Uncle Tom in the upper right, "playing two ends against the people," is a man unafraid of his oppressor, but still the victim of injustice and hatred.

"This is the way we was, take us as we are, Uncle Tom is dead."
—Herbert Singleton

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006


Figure group

sculpture - relief

folk art


readymade - hardware