art: revisiting the great migration, with paint and cardboard – jacob lawrence’s 60-panel migration series at moma in nyc

July 23, 2015

Jacob Lawrence was just 23 years old when he painted the 60-panel Migration Series on cardboard in the 1930s during the Harlem Renaissance. He received money from a grant to focus on his art and he would go to the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library (now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture) to do research and also recounted his parents’ journey from the south in his paintings of Negroes leaving the crumbling cotton economy in the early 1920s of the south but also entering the discrimination that was faced in search of new labor opportunities in NY, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia Detroit, and St. Louis. It was The Great Migration.

By Tiffany Charbonier, AFROPUNK Contributor  



Lawrence told history through his art along fellow writers like Langston Hughes and musicians like Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington, which you’ll also see in other pieces outside of the Migration Series. According to him, “Having no Negro history makes the Negro people feel inferior to the rest of the world…I didn’t do it just as a historical thing but because I believe these things tie up with the Negro today.”



This really is an exhibit worth seeing to understand that portion of history and also see how journalism meets painting. This reminds me of a quote I heard from the recent Nina Simone documentary, “I choose to reflect the times in which I find myself in. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?”

If you visit this exhibit at MOMA on Fridays from 4-8pm you’ll get in for free.