A Stirring Song Sung Heroic charts William Earle Williams’ decades-long project to make visible crucial sites in the history of the slave trade, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, and Emancipation that have largely gone unmarked and overlooked. The wooded landscapes, architectures, waterways, and crossroads of Williams’ photographs quietly index locales where struggles over and for bodies, minds, and freedom were wrought—slave markets, plantations, battlefields, military forts, stations along the Underground Railroad, farms of the newly freed—and where, in the artist’s words, “Americans black and white determined the meaning of freedom.”
If Williams’ research, location, and documentation of these sites constitute acts of commemoration, we, as viewers, join in this witnessing. We do so during a period of national reckoning over race, equity, and history, and of national conversations about ethics of memorialization and representation. In this context, Williams’ photographs, along with accompanying 19th- and early-20th-century works of literature and visual culture, may serve to inspire reflection, discussion, and understanding.
William E. Williams is the Audrey A. and John L. Dusseau Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Fine Arts and Curator of Photography at Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania. His photographs have been widely exhibited including group and solo exhibitions at the Cleveland Museum of Art, George Eastman House, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, The National Gallery, Smith College and Center for Documentary Studies- Duke University. His work is represented in many public collections including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Museum of Fine Arts Houston, National Gallery Washington, DC. Williams has received individual artist fellowships from the Pew Fellowships in the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
The Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.