NARRATOR: Jacob Lawrence came of age in the vibrant milieu of Harlem in the 1930s. There he came in contact with writers and philosophers who promoted black achievement and strong cultural identity.
Jacob Lawrence’s visual style was modern, and foregrounded visual concerns. But he stood out among American modernists for his interest in narrative. He often worked in a series, telling loose stories and creating variations on a number of themes. In 1940 and 1941, he completed the Migration of the Negro. This massive series included sixty paintings—collectively portraying the story of African American migration from the rural South to the industrial northern states in the 1920s. The series brought him national acclaim, and in 1941 he became the first African American artist to be represented in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. He also produced series reflecting life in Harlem, and—in the Whitney’s War Series—his own experience in the Coast Guard during World War II.