Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist

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Kids can listen and learn from this audio guide highlighting selected works in Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist.

Archibald J. Motley Jr., Town of Hope, 1927. Oil on canvas, 38 1/2 x 31 1/2 in. (97.8 x 80 cm). Johnson Publishing Company. Image courtesy the Chicago History Museum. © Valerie Gerrard Browne

NARRATOR: What kind of a story do you think Motley is telling here? There’s a town on the horizon. A group of people are walking away from it. There are dark clouds, and crows circle overhead. Motley called this painting Town of Hope—is that the title you were expecting?

Between 1910 and 1930, almost two million African Americans left the South, hoping to escape racism and find jobs. This period is known as the Great Migration. Many migrants, like Motley’s own family, came to Chicago. They mostly traveled on trains or buses—not on foot, like the people in this painting. This isn’t a straightforward picture of the Great Migration, but it is an imaginative response to it. Motley leaves the meaning of this painting up to you. Do you think these people are walking away from their homes in the South? Or did they try to go to the town on the horizon—and find that it was less welcoming than they had hoped?

Some of Motley’s other paintings show the vibrant communities that African Americans were able to form in Chicago. But this painting reminds us that the Great Migration was a time of difficulty as well as hope and possibility.