Radical Acts

Jacob Lawrence. Migration Series. 1940-41 457

Jacob Lawrence. Migration Series. Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy. © 2019 Jacob Lawrence / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Artist, Shellyne Rodriguez: What the Migration Series does is trace the history of the migration of African-Americans, from the Jim Crow South into the North, and to the West of the United States.

Kerry Downey: That’s my friend and colleague, Shellyne Rodriguez.

Shellyne Rodriguez: I'm what you would call a multidisciplinary artist. I'm also a community organizer based in the South Bronx.

What makes the Migration Series so poignant is how it draws the viewer into this lived experience, almost like it’s handing the viewer its pair of shoes, so they so that they might walk the walk. As you walk that walk, you find that many things have not changed in the U.S., and that this work speaks in the voice of today just as it did in 1940.

So when you see the judge in one of the panels, it reminds me of the continued criminalization of black people in the United States. Right away, my mind goes to you know, that there are more African-Americans in the criminal justice system than there were enslaved 10 years before slavery was abolished.

You also see the see images of the riots, and how Northern white workers, who felt like their jobs were in a precarious position, attack African Americans moving into the into the North.

The story of black people migrating from the South is a story about refugees, refugees in their own country, emigrating to the North, and very much like the hostility black folks faced in the North when they arrived, Central American refugees at the border between U.S. and Mexico are met with the same kind of hostility.

Lawrence brings up all of these things that are so contemporary that feel so “right now.” You know, the fight doesn't end, it just changes stripes.

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