Jacob Lawrence


Born September 07, 1917, Jacob Lawrence was one of the most innovative artists of his time in the ways he was able to depict the struggles of the Great Migration from the South to the North. Living in Harlem, New York for a number of years, Jacob received many awards and amazing opportunities. In 1937, Lawrence won a scholarship to the American Artists School in New York. When he graduated in 1939, he received funding from the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project. He had already developed his own style of modernism, and began creating narrative series, painting 30 or more paintings on one subject. He completed his best-known series, Migration of the Negro or simply The Migration Series, in 1941.

“This is my genre…the happiness, tragedies, and the sorrows of mankind as realized in the teeming black ghetto.”– Jacob Lawrence



1942. Gouache on paper, 28-3/4 x 20-1/2 in. (73 x 52.1 cm)

In the cities, this troubled time served documentary and polemical purposes, exposing the social inequities, political injustices, and sense of hopelessness that threatened the stability of American society. Tombstones demonstrates this through multiple different factors. The harsh blood stained red, used throughout the piece, the inevitable words, “Tombstones” used on the sign was not only symbolic of an actual tombstone store itself, but also death itself.

Through this tragic, sad piece, the white cross is a sign of hope in this time of desperation. The mother and child shown in the piece are used to give the audience a sense of wonder as to how an innocent child could be born into a world of so much brokenness.  People are entering in and out of the store because there is so much death at this point that this action is almost normalized.

Race Riots

AMOMA_103123108251950. Gouache on paper, 28-3/4 x 20-1/2 in. (73 x 52.1 cm)

Race riots were very numerous all over the North because of the antagonism that was caused between the black and white workers. Many of these riots occurred because the African American was used as a strike breaker in many of the Northern industries.

This panel is sad in the way we can see that harm is depicted in this panel. We see white men and evil silhouettes clubbing people. The look on the white man’s face is not one to admire. He looks angry and simply out of control. The black outfit that the white man is wearing is symbolic of his dark, inhumane mind. Race riots were very prevalent at this point in time because white individuals wanted to keep there firm grip on their power and use of cheap labor. Lawrence uses somber blues blacks and greys to describe just how disheartening this experience was.


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