The Migration Series

Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series (1940–41), a sequence of 60 paintings, depicts the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North between World War I and World War II—a development that had received little previous public attention.

Lawrence spent months distilling the subject into captions and preliminary drawings and preparing 60 boards with the help of his wife, artist Gwendolyn Knight. He created the paintings in tempera, a water-base paint that dries rapidly. To keep the colors consistent, Lawrence applied one hue at a time to every painting where it was to appear, requiring him to plan all 60 paintings in detail at once.

The series was the subject of a solo show at the Downtown Gallery in Manhattan in 1941, making Lawrence the first black artist represented by a New York gallery. Interest in the series was intense. Ultimately, The Phillips Collection and New York's Museum of Modern Art agreed to divide it, with the Phillips buying the odd-numbered paintings.

All 60 panels of The Migration Series are reunited at The Phillips Collection this fall in the exhibition People on the Move: Beauty and Struggle in Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series (October 8, 2016-January 8, 2017).

As part of the Phillips’s commitment to sharing and expanding Jacob Lawrence’s legacy and achievements with broad and diverse audiences, the museum has produced interactive features based on and inspired by the artist’s extraordinary work.

Explore the lasting cultural, political, and societal impact of the Great Migration through the life and work of artist Jacob Lawrence.

Browse all 60 panels from The Migration Series and delve into Jacob Lawrence's art and life through photographs, poetry, and music from the Great Migration, Harlem, and more. The website features the artist's first hand accounts—clips from two never-before-published interviews with the artist—as well as perspectives from a range of contemporary voices. Continue the story of migration by sharing what you think #Panel61 of The Migration Series would look like.  

Explore Jacob Lawrence’s life, process, and influences that shaped the creation of The Migration Series on the Prism.K12 website for educators. Learn about the artist and the series through delving into themes of migration, community, segregation, discrimination, and narrative storytelling.

This online resource is part of Prism.K12, an innovative teaching tool for K–12 teachers of any subject to create rich arts-integrated curricula. The site offers ideas for individual, group, and classroom activities, such as making murals, writing poems, research projects, and more.

 Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series offers a dynamic, in-depth look at The Migration Series. Users can listen to Lawrence read his original captions and explore his artistic process and sources of inspiration. Other features include an online children's art gallery inspired by the series, an opportunity for visitors to share their stories of migration and read those of others, and games exploring color, shape, and sound. The program provides classroom connections for teachers. 

 Jacob Lawrence: Over the Line surveys Lawrence's life and his long and fascinating career, with emphasis on his student years and development as an artist. Through Lawrence’s paintings and archival photographs, users can follow his progress from his breakthrough exhibition into the segregated art world of New York through the decades beyond. Teaching resources include activities and questions keyed to various curriculum areas. A separate section contains collages made in a model project by students in Washington, DC, elementary schools.