These thirty paintings constitute half of the sixty-panel Migration Series, shared between MoMA and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Lawrence took as his subject the exodus of African Americans from the rural South to Northern cities during and after World War I, when industry's demand for workers attracted them in vast numbers. As the son of migrants, Lawrence had a personal connection to the topic. He researched the subject extensively and wrote the narrative before making the paintings, taking seriously the dual roles of educator and artist.
Lawrence was influenced by the work of the Mexican muralists and earlier artists such as Goya, but he drew his stylistic inspiration primarily from the Harlem community in which he lived. The vivid pattern and color—created in tempera paint as Lawrence worked on all the panels at once—reflect an aesthetic that itself had migrated from the South.