Jacob Lawrence. In the North the Negro had better educational facilities. 1940-41

Jacob Lawrence In the North the Negro had better educational facilities 1940-41

  • MoMA, Floor 4, 402 The David Geffen Galleries

During the first half of the twentieth century, as the expanding modern industries in America’s northern cities demanded ever more workers, great numbers of African Americans saw a chance to escape the poverty and discrimination of the rural South. Between 1916 and 1930, more than a million people moved north. Lawrence’s parents made the journey, and he grew up hearing stories about it; as a young artist living in Harlem, the heart of New York’s African American community, he recognized it as an epic theme. Originally known as The Migration of the Negro but renamed by the artist in 1993, this cycle of sixty images—each accompanied by a caption written by the artist—chronicles a great exodus and arrival.

Visually, the cycle advances through panels of incident and panels of near abstraction and emptiness. Using exaggerated perspectives, rhythmic compositions, astringent colors, and angular figures, Lawrence bent decorative forms to the task of history, making social realism compatible with abstract art. African Americans met with a mixed reception in the North; along with jobs, the vote, and education, the new life brought unhealthy living conditions, civil unrest, and other trials, all documented in Lawrence’s cycle along with his community’s heroic perseverance in facing them.

Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

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.

Gallery label from 2012.
Casein tempera on hardboard
12 x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy
Object number
© 2019 Jacob Lawrence / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos.

If you notice an error, please contact us at digital@moma.org.

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at firenze@scalarchives.com. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA's Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.