great migration panel 12

This year marks the centenary of the beginning of the Great Migration, the exodus of six million African Americans from the US South to the northern cities, such as Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and New York. The Museum of Modern Art in New York is marking that anniversary with an exhibition that brings together all 60 panels of Jacob Lawrence’s epic portrayal of the exodus. Lawrence was one of America’s most important twentieth century painters and his Great Migration series is perhaps his most famous work, a work as much of historical memory as of art. The paintings comprise, as the critic Robert Hughes put it, ‘a visual ballad, each image a stanza, compressed, like the blues, to the minimum needs of narration’.

I wrote last month about the Great Migration and of Lawrence’s depiction of it. I am publishing on Pandaemonium all 60 paintings in the series. Panels 1-10, I published last month; here are panels 11-20, together with Lawrence’s captions to the paintings.


In many places, because of the war,
food had doubled in price.

great migration panel 11


The railroad stations were at times
so over-packed with people leaving
that special guards had to be called in to keep order.

great migration panel 12


Due to the South’s losing so much of its labor,
the crops were left to dry and spoil.

great migration panel 13


Among the social conditions which was partly
the cause of the migration was the injustice
done to the Negroes in the courts.

great migration panel 14


Another cause was lynching.
It was found that where there had been a lynching,
the people who were reluctant to leave at first
left immediately after this.

great migration panel 15


Although the Negro was used to lynching,
he found this an opportune time for him to leave
where one had occurred.

great migration panel 16


The migration was spurred on by the treatment
of the tenant farmers by the planter.

great migration panel 17


The migration gained in momentum.

great migration panel 18


There had always been discrimination.

great migration panel 19


In many of the communities the Negro press
was read continually because of its attitude
and its encouragement of the movement.

great migration panel 20


  1. Hi, I just read both of your posts on Jacob Lawrence and his paintings depicting the great migration. Great post! One of the things that I like about Lawrence is that his paintings are so basic in nature, and yet so deep and moving. When I first saw them, they looked more like a child’s interpretation of colors and textures. They are so minimalistic and yet charming. The ones I like most are about lynching. He pays so much attention to his subjects, painting them in accordance with their state and mood. There’s no distracting elements in his paintings as well. Just the subject and his or her condition at the time.

    Thanks for a great, great post!

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