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We As One

23.5 x 32 inches mixed charcoal on paper

The viciousness directed at African Americans seeking equal rights during the Civil Rights Movement took many forms. Southern authorities directed the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against mobs of demonstrators that included the children of many protestors. Demonstrators held on to one another to face the spray, binding their arms together in hopes that their collective strength could withstand the onslaught. The force of the spray from the fire hoses was so powerful that it peeled the bark off trees. Protestors skidded along the ground, propelled by the torrent. These methods backfired when the spectacle of the brutality broadcast on national television served as one of the catalysts for major social and legal change in the South.

The hostile tactics by police authorities in support of segregation violated the law and the Constitution. In the United States of America, citizens are assured the right to peaceful assembly in the Bill of Rights. Police are supposed to allow them to peacefully do so. Despite unambiguous attempts at peaceful protest, police used extreme measures to quell the voices of civil rights protesters. Their dehumanizing and cruel actions and disregard of the Americans’ legal rights unequivocally demonstrated that in the South, authorities would ignore the Constitution and engage in violence to subjugate those whose skin color was different from theirs. Social progress is exceedingly difficult when those in power do not play by the rules, but those who are oppressed are jailed and attacked for the lawful exercise of constitutional rights. Nevertheless, the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement were undeterred.

In “We As One,” Washington depicts a mass of African American protesters whose peaceful protest has been halted by the forceful jet spray of police water hoses. The power of the hoses was ferocious – the hoses ejected streams of water powerful enough to break bones. With no concern for the physical well-being of the protesters, southern authorities used excessive force without reservation or inhibition.

Typically, the first soaking mist dispersed many of the demonstrators, but a remnant of the group stood their ground. As the water pressure increased, boys’ shirts were ripped off with the force of the water, and young women were lifted off their feet and over the tops of cars. When protesting students fell or crouched down, the blasts of water rolled them down the asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks.

In “We As One,” Washington shows a group of protesters binding together to withstand the aggression of southern authorities. Realizing that the strength of the group is stronger than that of separate individuals, the protesters interlock arms, using their collective strength to withstand the power of the hoses. These courageous activists embrace the power of collective action, realizing that to defeat their oppressors, they must not act alone. They must bind together and embrace the principle of “we as one.”


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