Jacob Lawrence

Photo of Jacob Lawrence, MAG Archives

Like the children he painted so vibrantly here, Jacob Lawrence grew up in Harlem, where his mother relocated his family during the period called the Great Migration. This was a time when many African American families moved from the rural South to the North. In the 1930s, Lawrence attended after-school art programs and ultimately the Harlem Art Workshop and the Harlem Community Art Center, where he met African American artists who encouraged the young man’s painting. Thanks to President Roosevelt’s Depression-era Works Projects Administration, Lawrence was able to earn money as a painter. In 1941, he had his first solo exhibition at the Downtown Gallery in Manhattan, The Migration of the Negro. His most celebrated works were narrative series of paintings related to African American history, such as the Migration series and the Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman series. In addition to his painting, Lawrence was a noted teacher at Black Mountain College, the Art Students League, and finally, the University of Washington, Seattle. Lawrence was considered the most important 20th century African American artist.