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The Migration Series
His Painting Method

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Grades 3-5 Grades 6-12

In the North the Negro had better educational facilities.

The Migration of the Negro, panel 58, 1940-41. Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. (30.5 x 45.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York; gift of Mrs. David M. Levy
Artwork © Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, courtesy of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation

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After  Reconstruction, southern educational facilities were segregated and schools for blacks were poorly maintained, meagerly equipped, and overcrowded. In 1916, The United States Bureau of Education found that annual per capita spending for education in southern states averaged $10.32 for whites, but only $2.89 for blacks.1

Many southern blacks migrated to the North in search of better educational opportunities for their children. Although the school system in the North was also segregated, here the schools for blacks had better equipment and more staff than their southern counterparts. Northern states also had compulsory education laws, which encouraged students to stay in school, instead of dropping out and working as southern blacks often did. Nearly twice as many black students completed high school in the North than in the South.2

While Lawrence explored the false promises of the North, some of his Migration Series paintings present the hope for something better: greater access to education, greater work opportunities, and the freedom to vote. In this image, Lawrence composed the classroom environment as a "landscape" where the importance of education and growth, especially for girls, is emphasized.

1. Carole Marks, Farewell–We're Good and Gone: The Great Black Migration (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1989), p. 145.

2. Spencer Crew, Field to Factory: Afro-American Migration 1915-1940 (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institute, 1987), p. 59.
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Think about your own classroom and school.
What does your classroom environment or "landscape" look like?
What facilities do you have?
For example: Do you have desks? Blackboards? Computers?
What else do you wish you had? Why?
Why do some schools have more facilities than others?

• Draw three pictures of yourself at different stages of your education. Do you remember your first day of school? How have you changed since then? Write captions below your pictures.

• Draw, paint, or photograph an element or detail of your classroom in a horizontal landscape format. Use this classroom landscape as a background to put yourself in the picture. If you like, include a couple of your classmates.

©2002 Whitney Museum of American Art