New York City has always attracted avant-garde artists. From the energetic Abstract Expressionists to the pioneers of American Pop Art, forward-thinking creatives have flocked to the city that never sleeps for decades. While each and every modern movement cultivated in the Big Apple has made its mark on the history of art, the Harlem Renaissance enabled an entire population to flourish.
Throughout the 1920s and into the 30s, New York City’s Harlem neighborhood thrived as a cultural hub for African Americans. During this “golden age,” the arts thrived, culminating in a cultural movement that saw the creation of one of modern art’s most moving works: The Migration Series, a prolific collection of paintings by African American artist Jacob Lawrence.
The Inspiration Behind The Migration Series
Jacob Lawrence, Panel 40 (“Great Numbers”) from the “Migration Series,” 1940-1941 (Photo: Ron Cogswell via Flickr Public Domain)Completed in 1941, The Migration Series colorfully tells the story of the Great Migration—a mass exodus of over 6 million African Americans from the South. Fleeing economic hardship and laws shaped by segregation, these individuals relocated to urban areas in the West, Midwest, and—most prominently—the North. In these new cities, the migrants mostly stuck together, forming supportive communities by settling into neighborhoods like Harlem.
“The Harlem section of Manhattan, which covers just three square miles, drew nearly 175,000 African Americans, giving the neighborhood the largest concentration of black people in the world,” the National Museum of African American History and Culture explains. “Harlem became a destination for African Americans of all backgrounds. From unskilled laborers to an educated middle-class, they shared common experiences of slavery, emancipation, and racial oppression, as well as a determination to forge a new identity as free people.”[…]