Jacob Lawrence

The Artistic Storyteller

"Most of my work depicts events from the many Harlems which exist throughout the United States. This is my genre... the happiness, tragedies, and the sorrows of mankind as realized in the teeming black ghetto."


—Jacob Lawrence



Unlike any other artist, Jacob Lawrence captured cultural history through his painting. He painted scenes of great emotion using bold colors and simple subjects.

All About Lawrence

Born on September 7, 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Jacob Lawrence wasn't set up for success. He was put in foster care at the age of seven with his two younger brothers. In 1930 he moved in with his mom in Harlem and was introduced to art though an afterschool art program. In 1937, after dropping out of high school four years prior, Lawrence won a scholarship to the American Artists School in New York City which influenced the style and content of his paintings. Because of this experience, he painted sixty pieces of art, called “The Migration of the Negro” (also known as The Great Migration) between 1940 and 1941. During WWII, he was an artist for the Coast Guard, documenting the reality of war around the world. After the war, he received the Guggenheim Fellowship, which supported him while he painted his “War Series.” Later on, he was a tenured professor at Howard University, did artwork for the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and sold paintings to raise money for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Children’s Defense Fund.

Jacob Lawrence Compared to Philip Stein

Lawrence and Stein depicted social issues using ordinary people. Both were passionate about their topics, however, Stein's paintings were much more militant and created an aggressive feel as he was trying to fight a social situation. Lawrence's paintings simply showed the social situation, but couldn't fight it because he was African American.
Jacob Lawrence: Art and Social Context

The Migration of the Negro, Panel 1, 1940

This is a painting of African Americans getting ready to board trains headed for northern cities and it is significant because it shows how railroads were used greatly by African Americans during the great migration, the journey from the South to the North.

Click to veiw the complete series of "The Great Migration"