Jacob Lawrence was an African-American painter best known for his “Migration Series” of African-American life. He was 23 years old when he received national acclaim for his 60-panel Migration Series, which depicted the details of the Great Migration of Blacks in the South and urban North.
Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1917 Lawrence’s family relocated to New York when he was 13 years old. He was exposed to art as a child growing up in the city. His mother enrolled him in arts and crafts classes to keep him occupied and out of trouble.
He dropped out of school when he was 16 and went to work in a laundry and printing plant. Lawrence enrolled in the Harlem Community Art Center, which is directed by sculptor Augusta Savage. Savage later secured Lawrence’s education with a scholarship to the American Artists School and a paid position with the Works Progress Administration, which Franklin D. Roosevelt established during the Great Depression. In 1941, he married Gwendolyn Knight, a painter and Augusta Savage student.
In 1941, Lawrence completed his best-known series, Migration of the Negro, also known as The Migration Series. The series was shown at Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery in 1942, making him the gallery’s first African-American member.
Lawrence relocated to Washington state in 1970 after being invited to join the faculty at the University of Washington. During his time in the Pacific Northwest, he completed a series of five paintings depicting African-American pioneer George Washington Bush’s westward journey. This series is part of the State of Washington History Museum’s collection. He taught at a number of universities and painted until his death in 2000.