Whitney Meet Jacob Lawrence Jacob Lawrence's Art Learning Resources Tell Your Own Story Student Art and Stories
Home Help
The Migration Series
His Painting Method

A Webquest Awaits
Grades 6-12

Click here to view a larger image
Among the social conditions that existed which was partly the cause of the migration was the injustice done to the Negroes in the court.

The Migration of the Negro, panel 14, 1940-41. Casein tempera on hardboard, 18 x 12 in. (45.7 x 30.5 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
indicates a link to another site

After  Reconstruction blacks in the South were stripped of political protection. Southern states adopted  "Jim Crow" laws, which imposed poll taxes, examinations, property qualifications, and grandfather clauses limiting the ability of blacks to vote. Laws also required blacks to use separate public amenities, including separate educational and transportation facilities.

It was difficult, if not impossible, for African Americans in the South to demand justice. One migrant from Virginia said that in the South blacks had to be very careful not to offend anyone, "because they knowed that the least little thing you would do, they would kill ya."1 Fear of lynching haunted southern blacks as they suffered violence from the  Ku Klux Klan and from the legal institutions of southern society.

In southern courts, blacks were not afforded the same legal protection as whites and they had little access to legal defense. They were given summary trials that all too often resulted in a death sentence and execution. Many migrants cited these social conditions as a reason for their move to the North.

In this painting, two African Americans are receiving a verdict from the judge who towers over them from behind the bench. The defendants are anonymous, and the judge appears to avoid eye contact with them. Lawrence positioned the viewer behind the defendants as though he or she is witnessing the court case.

1. Spencer Crew, Field to Factory: Afro-American Migration 1915-1940 (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institute, 1987), p. 12.
View Printable Page

• Think about an issue of injustice that concerns our society today. Imagine that it is your job to create a campaign that raises public awareness about this issue. You can design buttons, bumper stickers, posters, a web page, television, or radio announcements to spread your message. Develop a slogan for your campaign. If you like, choose a spokesperson.

• You may want to research other campaigns that have raised awareness about issues of injustice, for example,  Guerilla Girls. How could you use art work to help your campaign?

©2002 Whitney Museum of American Art