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.
The railroad stations were at times
so over-packed with people leaving
that special guards had to be called in to keep order.
Due to the South’s losing so much of its labor,
the crops were left to dry and spoil.
Among the social conditions which was partly
the cause of the migration was the injustice
done to the Negroes in the courts.
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.
Although the Negro was used to lynching,
he found this an opportune time for him to leave
where one had occurred.
The migration was spurred on by the treatment
of the tenant farmers by the planter.
The migration gained in momentum.
There had always been discrimination.