A “New” Great Migration?
Jessica Lynne and Sola Olosunde discuss the legacy—and continuing relevance—of Jacob Lawrence’s epic Migration Series.
Jessica Lynne, Sola Olosunde
Nov 9, 2023
In the six decades between 1910 and 1970, an estimated five million Black Americans left the South. Jacob Lawrence’s 60-panel Migration Series, today shared by MoMA and the Phillips Collection, depicts the exodus of nearly half of the nation’s Black population. The effects of the Great Migration were profound. It led to the growth of vibrant Black communities in major Northern cities like New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia, which became hubs for culture and played a pivotal role in shaping modern society. Today, many Black Americans are journeying back to the South, making Lawrence’s work newly resonant. Recently I sat down with writer and art critic Jessica Lynne and urban planner and photographer Sola Olosunde to delve into the impact and enduring relevance of Lawrence’s groundbreaking narrative of migration and displacement.
—DaeQuan Alexander Collier, Content Producer, The Creative Team
Jacob Lawrence. The migrants arrived in great numbers. 1940–41
We can look back and see how Black folk stewarded and developed many neighborhoods in the North, and now that the land is worth something, we’re being pushed out.
I would also invite us to think about what it means for people who did not have the means to leave or who, for whatever reason, chose to stay. To think about the constellations of communities—creative and political—that were created as a result of staying.
Jacob Lawrence. In the North the Negro had better educational facilities. 1940–41
Jacob Lawrence. Among one of the last groups to leave the South was the Negro professional who was forced to follow his clientele to make a living. 1940–41
For so many of us, regardless of the mediums we work in, or even if we don’t have a studio practice at all, this work is a reminder that the arts have an important role in how we document, record, articulate, and share a history.
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