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The Migration Series
His Painting Method

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Grades 3-5 Grades 6-12

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Tombstones, 1942. Gouache on paper, 28 3/4 x 22 1/2 in. (73 x 57.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase  43.14
Artwork © Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, courtesy of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation
The strength of family and community bonds was tested by the many threats to healthy living that the migrants encountered in the urban North. Limited access to health care and hospital facilities was a major problem for blacks in northern cities. Smallpox, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and other diseases spread quickly. The death rate for blacks was consistently higher than that for whites.1

This painting appears to depict an everyday Harlem scene of men, women, and children relaxing on and around a stoop on a hot day in the city. On closer examination, Lawrence has made symbolic and religious references to the cycle of birth, life, and death. On the right, a woman holds a baby, like a Madonna and child. The diagonal lines and shapes of the stoop and tombstone sign draw attention to the door and windows at the top of the painting. The potted plants in the window (top right) also suggest different stages of growth.

A symbol is something–usually a sign or an object–that represents or stands for something else. For example, flags can be symbols for countries and hearts are often symbols for love.

1. Carole Marks, Farewell–We're Good and Gone: The Great Black Migration (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1989), p. 147.
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• Compare this image to Lawrence's 1958 Brownstones. List the similarities and differences that you find in these paintings. Pay attention to shapes and colors. Notice what the figures are doing and what their gestures are. How do stoops play a role in both images? What messages do these images communicate about the Harlem community?

©2002 Whitney Museum of American Art