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October 25, 2018 6:13 AM   Subscribe

in 1941, 23-year-old painter Jacob Lawrence completed The Migration Series - 60 paintings that documented the Great Migration.

A closer look at Jacob Lawrence's "Migration Series" by Julia Wolkoff, from Artsy
The series, completed in 1941, chronicles the mass exodus of over a million African-Americans from the rural South to the industrial North between the 1910s and ’20s. Lured by job opportunities, and enabled by a newly accessible railway system, the migrants were also fleeing the racial discrimination and violence propagated by oppressive Jim Crow laws... The artist completed his ambitious historical project in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City in 1941, when he was just 23 years old. Painted in modest tempera on board, the collection of same-size panels, each 12 by 18 inches, recounts an epic tale of extreme hardship and injustice, as well as buoyant hope. It begins with a group of African-Americans leaving the South by train. Their departure upends Southern black communities, who anguish over whether to make the journey, too. More and more migrants eventually decide to go North, where they face new freedoms and new forms of discrimination.
Jacob Lawrence's Art as Journalism - the painter's migration series was a first draft of history for one of black America's defining moments, by Syreeta McFadden
I hadn’t realized that scholarship and reportage of black migration was so scant, because the story was always so present in my own life—we lived in Milwaukee and spoke in Southern accents. Yet when viewing the exhibit now, something becomes viscerally clear to me that I hadn’t considered when I first saw these paintings together 20 years ago at MoMA. History, reportage, and craft merge in Lawrence’s work, making it dynamic and urgently present. We see, through the eyes of a 23-year-old man who is wise beyond his years, the political order and cultural chaos of the 20th-century black experience, which itself reshaped America and its politics indelibly.
Telling the whole story: Jacob Lawrence's "The Migration Series" by Peter Schjeldahl
Lawrence later said that the idea for “Migration” came to him from his Harlem milieu: “People would speak of these things on the street.” A sense of particular witness attends a view of a dingy interior, crowded with beds and luggage, that he laconically captioned in the revised series “Housing was a serious problem,” as well as a picture of pallbearers and a coffin with the 1993 caption “The migrants, having moved suddenly into a crowded and unhealthy environment, soon contracted tuberculosis. The death rate rose.” Lawrence’s reportorial voice substantiated, as his painting made elegiac, the testimony of people to whom he gave ear.
The 2015 MOMA Exhibition webpage
posted by ChuraChura (10 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Jacob Lawrence was also commissioned to provide illustrations for the book of his choice - he chose John Hersey's book on Hiroshima. These paintings are part of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art's collection.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:18 AM on October 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
posted by robbyrobs at 7:35 AM on October 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

Great set of links! There's also Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, which provides the opportunity for viewers to create their own Panel 61.
posted by wicked_sassy at 7:42 AM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, I really like the style of painting here, the abstraction makes it feel more... universal? Not quite what I'm reaching for, but instead of thinking about the experience of a single family because they are so identifiable, you think about the experience of so many people.
posted by tavella at 8:38 AM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was lucky enough to see the MOMA exhibition in 2015, but my favorite Lawrence pieces are from the War Series, currently on display at the Whitney.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:33 AM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Detroit Institute of Arts also displays portions of Lawrence's The Legend of John Brown series. The sparseness of the images allow for powerful, quiet moments.
posted by Turkey Glue at 9:56 AM on October 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wow, this is fantastic.

Panel 46 ("Industries boarded their workers in unhealthy quarters. Labor camps were numerous.") caught my eye - and the Curatorial Comparison below the main image is pretty fascinating, too.

This is an amazing series. Just wonderful. Thank you so much for all the links, ChuraChura!
posted by kristi at 10:30 AM on October 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

In 2015, I had an opportunity to listen to Leah Dickerman, the curator of the MoMA exhibition, talk about organizing it. One of the first images that she shared was a photograph of her copy of The Warmth of Other Suns, which I remember looking like it had color-coded Post-It flags bursting out of every side of it except the spine. She talked about the ways that the book had reframed her understanding of the series, and how it helped her conceive of the themes and sections within the exhibition and the ways that they should be connected to one another in the galleries and the catalogue. So, the connection that robbyrobs is making is not just coincidental - Wilkerson's book was central to the research and planning process behind the 2015 exhibition and its website.
posted by Anita Bath at 1:18 PM on October 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh this is extraordinary!
posted by congen at 3:13 PM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I saw the MOMA exhibit; it was wonderful. I'm glad to know about the "Hiroshima" series and the "John Brown" series. Thanks.
posted by acrasis at 3:21 PM on October 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

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