Despite having been painted 74 years ago, Jacob Lawrence’s cycle of 60 paintings depicting the migration of African-Americans from the South to the North feels as poignant and timely as if created last week. Painted on 18-by-12 inch slabs of hardboard, the works, hung at eye level in one line around the perimeter of a MoMA gallery, chronicle the hardships, bigotry and brutality black Americans faced. That Lawrence was just 23 when he made the “Migration Series” makes the entire project all the more remarkable. In “One-Way Ticket,” Lawrence’s work is contextualized by well-chosen examples of African-American pre-war literature, music, photography and the work of a few of his contemporaries, including Romare Bearden and Charles White.
The final panel suggests this epic journey would continue: “And the migrants kept coming.”
Pictured: Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, panel 3: “In every town Negroes were leaving by the hundreds to go North and enter into Northern industry,” 1940-41, casein tempera on hardboard, 18 by 12 inches. Courtesy The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.