Freedom and Social Change

Bar and Grill

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right—a right which, we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.” –  Abraham Lincoln, 1848

On January 6, 1941, in the first State of the Union address to Congress of his third term in office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt closed his speech with a description of four essential human freedoms – freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Roosevelt believed that these freedoms were the basis on which society was formed, and that the duty of protecting and upholding these freedoms in the face of tyranny fell to the United States.

Unfortunately, American history is filled with many examples of how Americans have collectively failed at providing these freedoms to all. In the early days of our history, it was American Indians who suffered at the expense of our “manifest destiny.” Later, the freedom denied to enslaved African Americans came to a head during the Civil War. The twentieth century would see the liberties of many groups taken away; European immigrants in the early 1900s, Japanese Americans during World War II, and Mexican Americans in the 1960s. The denial of freedom in its many manifestations has led to pivotal social change in this country; from the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, to the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Artists throughout American history have responded to these events through in their work and all of the following artworks explore the question: have we really guaranteed freedom and equality to all Americans?

Click on an artwork to learn more about how that artwork connects to the theme of Freedom and Social Change.


19th Century – American Indians and African Americans

Tecumseh 001Pigeon's Egg HeadLord is My ShepherdOld Mistress




20th Century – African Americans, Latinos, and Women

Bar and Grill


Off to War

Letter From Overseas

1964.1.36 007

The Library



Farm AltarCamas Para SuenosDiaryBrownies of the Southwest

21st Century – African Americans

sob sob 004By Any Means Necessary Malcolm X