It began with a poem! Reading the Langston Hughes poem One-Way Ticket inspired Jacob Lawrence to make a sketch of a train station waiting room filled with travelers, travelers like the ones seeking The Warmth of Other Suns. As a boy who became an artist, he knew about traveling. Lawrence moved from city to city and house to house until his mother, finally, found a place in Harlem for them to call home.
“I was part of the migration,“ he says “as was my family… I was only
about 10, 11, or 12. I didn’t realize that we were even a part of that….I didn’t
realize what was happening until the middle of the 1930s, and that’s
when the Migration series began to take form in my mind.”
In 1941, at the age of 23, Lawrence began painting works in a series that would become known as The Migration Series. Bookended by World War I and World War II, the work portrays an exodus, at once sweeping and, yet, singular in its focus. Long before his wet brush met a dry canvas, Lawrence had steeped himself in the works of writers and intellectuals focused on the Black migration and the role of the artist in art and culture. Where did he do so? At the library! The New York Public Library’s Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints, now known as The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, was instrumental in the artist’s development and formation of the work.
Translated into image and text was the journey of people who comprised the largest movement of people of African descent since the era of the transatlantic slave trade. A flood of humanity came, By River, By Rail bringing with it the seeds of new ways of thinking, living and behaving as well as songs, stories, music, dance and art.
A visual document whose narrative moves the viewer from south to north, The Migration Series is a visual chronicle of a major, unprecedented, historic event.
Discover the history behind the images in Lawrence’s masterwork. Find an American story writ upon a dusty road with titles like: Daily Life during African American Migrations; Fly Away: The Great African American Cultural Migrations; In Motion: The African American Migration Experience; and The Promised Land: The Migration and How It Changed America. These works, and more, can be found on the resource list Where I’m Bound: African Americans and Migration in Art and Life. They will ground you in this historic experience so that you fully appreciate the depth and breadth of Lawrence’s work. Then, make your way to The Seattle Art Museum and see Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series. The exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the painter’s birth and features all 60 panels of the series that will be on exhibit from January 21 to April 23, 2017.