America250’s November Salute 2021 is a digital photo mosaic and art installation depicting WWI hero Sgt. Henry Johnson. Commissioned by America250 and created by The People’s Picture, the installation is on display at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. It is also available digitally for exploration below.
November Salute is an annual program of America250 that shares America’s stories and honors those who have served our country in uniform. Sgt. Henry Johnson was selected as this year’s mosaic image in honor of the centennial of the dedication of the grounds of the National WWI Museum and Memorial and to recognize the unveiling of the National WWI Memorial in Washington, DC. The mosaic is composed of photos and stories celebrating U.S. military veterans, active duty service members, reservists, and guard members submitted by the public, and is combined with hundreds of images from the National WWI Museum and Memorial Archive.
About Sgt. Henry Johnson
Henry Johnson was born in about 1892 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. After moving to New York state as a teen, where he worked several jobs, Henry enlisted in the U.S. Army on June 5, 1917. He was assigned to the 15th New York Infantry Regiment of the National Guard. This all-Black unit became the American Expeditionary Force’s 369th Infantry Regiment, known informally as the “Harlem Hellfighters.” At the time, African American units were segregated from white units of the U.S. Military. Instead, the 369th was attached to a French army unit and sent to the front lines. In May of 1918, in the Argonne Forest, Johnson’s regiment was attacked. They fought back, and Johnson saved lives. Johnson was awarded the French Croix de Guerre. After his death, he was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor.
The valor displayed by Johnson and other Harlem Hellfighters helped sway American public opinion more favorably towards African American military service. Indeed, Johnson’s image was used to recruit new soldiers, and he was mentioned specifically by President Theodore Roosevelt as one of the “five bravest Americans” to serve in World War I.
Despite this, Johnson’s war injuries limited his ability to find work. Unable to hold down a job, he turned to alcohol. Destitute when he died in 1929, his family assumed he had been buried in a pauper’s field in Albany, New York. Decades later, researchers found that he had actually been buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
About the Artwork
The mosaic is created by The People’s Picture, a female-led photography and design studio based in the U.S. and United Kingdom. They create photo mosaic artworks and installations at the leading edge of design and technology. Their mission is to use digital storytelling to bring communities together to create, celebrate, and own their unique legacy.