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The Migration Series
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In every town Negroes were leaving by the hundreds to go North and enter into Northern industry.

The Migration of the Negro, panel 3, 1940-41. Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. (30.5 x 45.7 cm). The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
Artwork © Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, courtesy of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation

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Many blacks in the South first learned about work opportunities in the North from labor agents, who were intermediaries between northern companies and potential laborers. These agents were paid a fee for each worker they were able to produce. Agents often promised southerners money and a better life if they signed contracts with northern companies.

News of northern opportunities also filled the pages of newspapers such as the  Chicago Defender. This paper printed photographs, cartoons, and even poems about the great advantages awaiting those who went north. Migrants' letters to their relatives were perhaps most effective in generating "moving fever," particularly if the letter contained money or other concrete evidence of success in the North. Once migration began, it became a self-propelling movement. However, migrants rarely left on the spur of the moment; for most, moving to the North required time, planning, and money.

In this painting, Jacob Lawrence has shown the viewer a glimpse of the journey. People carry large packages and follow the direction of the flying birds, emphasizing the idea of migration. The people are grouped into a triangular shape, creating a dynamic composition within the simple, barren landscape. The line of birds connects the earth to the sky.
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• Imagine that it is the early part of the twentieth century and you are an African-American migrant who recently moved to the North. Write a letter to a family member or friend who has remained in the South. You may want to tell them about your trip north, your first impressions of a northern city, or the things you like and do not like about your new home. Like many migrants, you may also want to try to convince people back home to migrate north to join you.

©2002 Whitney Museum of American Art