William H. Johnson's artistic career ended abruptly in 1947 when he was confined to Central Islip State Hospital on Long Island for a psychiatric disorder. Despondent and withdrawn, he never left the hospital or painted again. In the years before his hospitalization, he chronicled the history of African Americans.

He placed his own face on the lynched cruciform figure of Nat Turner in a multi-layered image of martyrdom that illustrates the personal reality of racism.