Lifestyle & Culture

Virtual Museum: The Road North

Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel No. 1: “During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans.”

SOMETIMES online museum content is a blessing. Consider the case of the “Migration Series,” Jacob Lawrence’s masterpiece, a powerful suite of bold panels narrating the World War I–era migration of African Americans from the rural

Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel No. 11: “Food had doubled in price because of the war.”


and harsh South to the urban, and often no less harsh, industrial North.

The series, painted in 1940 and 1941, has 60 panels. All 60 were purchased in 1942, 30 by the Phillips Collection in Washington DC (the first US museum dedicated to modern art) and 30 by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Both museums’ panels were showcased at the Phillips several years ago, in collaboration with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and in October 2016 the Phillips created an interactive website for them, allowing the luxury of contemplating the works at leisure in the comfort of one’s home. (MoMA has its own in-depth “Migration Series” site.)

Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel No. 34: “The black press urged the people to leave the south.”

Lawrence plotted his work out carefully, writing a caption for each panel, sketching detail what each one would depict. He painted all the panels simultaneously, that is, working not panel by panel but color by color, applying each color of paint across all the panels to ensure their visual cohesion, a complex undertaking, to be sure.

At the site, clicking on each densely colored image pulls up the narrative behind it. In addition, the website offers a video interview with Lawrence, who died in 2000. Panel 60 is titled, “And the migrants kept coming.” It refers to the northern goal for southern blacks, but it’s hard in 2020 not to extend the notion to today’s migrants, all over the world, who are indeed still coming. The site invites visitors to create and submit their own Panel 61. 

Jacob Lawrence.

The guide to the Phillips show, Jacob Lawrence and the Migration Series: From the Phillips Collection, edited by Henry Louis Gates, is available through dealers on Amazon.

—Nancy McKeon

One thought on “Virtual Museum: The Road North

  1. Thank you for posting virtual museum exhibits and websites. I would recommend to your readers the Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo, MD, website:

    The park is offering classes and programs online – you can live anywhere and participate. The programs are directed at children, teens and adults. Check it out and access creative programs for all – while staying at home. There are also art history webinars available. Explore the website. Enjoy! Bonnie Casper, 2020 President, Board – Glen Echo Park Partnership.

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