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The Migration Series
His Painting Method

A Webquest Awaits
Grades 6-12

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The Negroes who had been North for quite some time met their fellowmen with disgust and aloofness.

The Migration of the Negro, panel 53, 1940-41. Casein tempera on hardboard, 18 x 12 in. (45.7 x 30.5 cm). The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
Artwork © Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, courtesy of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation
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During the Great Migration, an element of tension reverberated between northern African Americans and African American's who had migrated from the South. Northern blacks were concerned about the impact that the newcomers would have on life in the northern cities. In addition to health and housing issues, northern blacks worried that discrimination and physical restrictions would increase in response to the great influx of southern migrants.

Many northern blacks also felt that southern migrants would not "fit in" in northern urban life. They often urged newcomers to exchange their rural dress and manners for more "acceptable" behavior and styles. Organizations such as Chicago's  National Urban League distributed flyers telling migrants that if they wished to be accepted in northern cities they had to abandon their rural fashions and customs and adopt the proper dress and actions of city dwellers.

In this work, Jacob Lawrence portrayed a stylish couple against a background of a city building. The woman wears a glamorous outfit and a fox fur; the man wears a dress suit and a top hat, and both have white gloves, a symbol of class and a more affluent lifestyle.
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Go to www.jacoblawrence.org, scroll down to the "series" box and select The Migration of the Negro, 1941 from the pull-down menu. Click on SUBMIT.

• Look at the clothes of the southern migrants in the first half of Lawrence's Migration Series. How do their clothes differ from those worn by the northern couple in this image?

Imagine what these two figures would say about African-American migrants from the South. With a partner or by yourself, write and/or perform a conversation between a northern black and a southern migrant who has just arrived in the North.

©2002 Whitney Museum of American Art