Studio 360 Extra: American Icons: The Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence
I'm curt Anderson. And this is the studio. Three Sixty podcast. Hello I'm terrance. Mcknight the host of evenings with terrance McKnight on w. Our New York and this episode as part of Studio Three Sixties American icon series. We're looking at the migration series by the artist Shakeup Lawrence. It's a familiar story and a very American story. A group of migrants flee poverty violence and repression to seek a better life willing to start over. They make trade offs between the culture. They left behind and the New World. They have to embrace number twenty five after a while. Some communities were left almost bare typically this narrative is told from the perspective of European emigrants but it applies as well to the six point six million African Americans migrated from the south to the north between nineteen ten and nineteen seventy number six. The drains were packed continually with migrants Isabel. Wilkerson described them in her book the warmth of other suns by their own actions. They did not dream the American dream they will get into being. By definition of their own choosing they did not ask to be accepted but declared themselves for the Americans that perhaps few others recognized but that they had always been deep within their hearts. The Great Migration Changed American politics and culture. The painter Jacob Lawrence was one of the few artists to chronicle it Jacob. Lawrence was a lot of things historian. A teacher humanise philosopher. Jacob Lawrence was not exactly what you might call southern Negro. Here's Lawrenson in Nineteen ninety-three interview for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Some of them said my artists social commentary or its protest. It couldn't be anything else if I grew up in the Harlem community and that was my content. The Migration Series was created in Harlem New York depicts southern blacks migrating to northern cities. However it's creator didn't venture south until after the work was completed Jacob Armstead Lawrence was born in Atlantic City New Jersey in nineteen seventeen. His mother Rosalie was a domestic worker. Who had come from Virginia New Jersey where she met? Lawrence's father also named Jacob who came from North Carolina Lawrence was the oldest of three siblings and soon after his birth the family moved to eastern Pennsylvania. We're Lawrence his sister. Geraldine was born. Morrison's father worked as a cook on the railroads. Spending large amounts of time away from his family and this prolonged absence will cause Lawrence's parents to separate with a pregnant rose Lee taking the children to Philadelphia and giving birth to Jacob's brother William in nineteen twenty four a struggling mother of three. Rosalie thought best move to New York City and build a life for young children. She will leave them a foster care. That was a common practice at the time. It would take six years before thirteen-year-old Jacob join her in Harlem. It was a place that some referred to as the spiritual center of Black America Shoemaker. In New the the ICEMAN. Here's Lawrence and conversation with historian Henry Louis Gates Nineteen ninety-five. You knew the minister. You knew these people and you knew a person liked the Probably used to run down the street throwing imaginary hand-grenades he was he was he was a shell. Shock Better World War but the community new communities are took care of them and he was a part of the community. So this is all a part of this community was a sense of longing. I belong to the community. The community belongs to me if they had been paradigm F parliament hidden. Then mouth a Mike. That's Ozzie Davis. Reading one of links and hues this essays toast to Harlem Heaven State of mind. I commented you mind that simple draining. His glass from Central Park. One hundred seventy nine river to river. Holum mind during the nineteen twenties voices like Hughes along with contemporaries county color or no Hurston. Jean toomer catapulted the Harlem community onto the national stage. It's really a a catalyst for what historians called the New Negro Movement historian and civil rights. Professor Kevin Games and the new Negro represented this militant political and social movement with the demands for equality. You had as part of the new Negro movement black nationalism and black nationalism was led by the movement organized by Marcus Garvey who is Jamaican Immigrant. That brought together. African Americans in the south with black people in the Caribbean with migrants from the Caribbean. Repealing desire all over the world kind of Canadians of America for the American of England English Soprano Rental Germany for the Germans do think unreasonably we the black by over there with the man. We represented new it back again to what we do not Black Socialism of African American Socialist and labor leaders like Hubert Harrison and a Philip Randolph. Around one hundred thousand African Americans fought in Europe in World War One or were stationed in Europe in World War. One and they're meeting folks from the French colonies in West Africa. They're meeting Senegalese blacks english-speaking African American intellectuals like Langston Hughes and Jesse Faucet are meeting French speaking black intellectuals and activists blocks who migrated to urban centers like Harlem were more readily able to unify politically and culturally so with the passage of the fifteenth amendment. In eighteen sixty eight African American men could vote and hold elective office throughout the south. There's this tremendous white southern democratic backlash with the political representatives of the former plantation slave owning class. Really trying to thwart African aspirations. It culminates in a movement from roughly eighteen ninety to the early twentieth century in which African American men are barred from voting and the great migration happens at this low point and African American politics while the country was still debating over what it owed newly freed. Slaves southern blacks were confronted with more pragmatic obstacles but Amos Spencer crew were at the National Museum of African American history and culture. And I'm the acting director of this museum. Conditions in the south are getting more difficult for agriculture. There is a flood that takes place in the south at pushes a lot of African Americans who were tenant farmers and sharecroppers off the land. There's also the attack of the Boll Weevil which is tax cut than which is the primary crop around. That is a down spin. The chance to be economically stable for Tier Cropper's get becomes more and more difficult share. Copying is a difficult situation anyway. Because it's hard to make enough to pay the in in quotation. You're having to pay. And then you add to that the rise of Segregation Jim Crow laws and lynching and things like that but with the war and with worry. The streets opening up and with many whites being recruited to fight in military positions opened up again. Not The best ones for those. That least were job. Opportunities so people were moving north to take advantage of these new opportunities but by nineteen thirty that sense of blackness of humanity equality of recognition that became the centerpiece of the Cultural Ethos of Harlem. The Term New Negro was coined by writer philosopher. Lame lock who believed an understanding of African history could unify Harlem residents regardless of origin and in Harlem Lawrence found a community standing on. Its own not being completely absorbed in the broader culture but creating culture creating meaning creating Art Volley Jacob. Lawrence actually knew what art was culturally vibrant though it may have been homeless still overwhelmingly poor. The Great Depression had nineteen twenty nine and by nineteen thirty. Three many were destitute but jobs. We had no money. Hunger dove out people to the bread. Lang's anxiously waited waited for some sign of better days then came the federal government's work programme. The works progress administration spent eleven billion dollars. Employing three million people between nineteen thirty five and nineteen forty two while most of the money went to construction and civil engineering projects the WPA also established a creative division called the federal arts project it also established more than one hundred art centers. All over the country Jacob Lawrence says mother sent him to one of those art center's was an after school arts program called Utopia Children's house. His first teacher was Charles Halston. Who is a really good painter academically trained you know got a degree at at Columbia Teachers College doctor. Patricia Hill has written several books Jacob Lawrence. He recognized that Lawrence had a genius for design and so he didn't teach him academic drawing. He just let him do what he could do. And that is wonderful design. Lawrence's interest and talent began to flourish. He experimented with line and Color by copying the patterns of hand woven rugs and he learned to see art everywhere. Here's Lawrence conducting an oral history interview for the Seattle Public Library in nineteen eighty-seven being greatly influenced by the The floor of evil in the community used to use document. Homes and these were Taken the Persian rugs and they our best designs things about saw influenced by that also mother like so many of the people over age USA decorate their homes also of colors and I didn't realize that I was greatly for Lawrence began to paint modern Harlem that immediate the intimate and the profane. I need a street corner. Artis speak about revolutions big about Tucson overture. The blocked liberator of eighty very fiery speakers. Lawrence painted street orders audience in nineteen thirty six. He was nineteen years old and the painting. A group of men and women gays upward at an order was climbing a ladder to a platform in one thousand. Nine hundred eighty four Austin became the first black director of WPA Arts Workshop located at three zero six West one hundred forty first street. The three zero six as it would come to be called help classes on sculpting and painting Lawrence worked as an apprentice to Austin also designed and oversaw mural project for the nearby Harlem Hospital Jacob Lawrence rented a corner in the studio where he would pay. The three zero six was also the meeting place for many Harlem intellectuals here's Patricia Hills sort of like almost like salons you know where it just. The conversation was about Talk Culture and poetry folks like Langston Hughes. Ralph Ellison Aaron Douglas Lane Block would engage in spirited discussions Lawrence. Sit back taking it all in during this time. His interest in epic narratives also Pete as an assistant. He would help. Charles Austin apply is completed sketches onto the bare white walls of Harlem Hospital fascinated with the scale and drum of the murals. This work would also expose Lawrence to other murless like Jose rose co and Diego Rivera. Charles Austin had watched Diego Rivera as he painted his famously. Controversial mural at Rockefeller Center which featured trait workers and it was destroyed for supposedly being to some pathetic to communism. In addition to the boat use of color Lawrence was struck by Rivera's committed engagement with social issues. Lawrence was not at the three zero six. He attended classes at the studio of fame. Sculptor Augusta. Savage her Harlem Art Center will become one of the largest in the nation and it was here the Jacob Meta's future wife Wendelin night Gwendolyn she was actually a few years older than Lawrence very beautiful woman and she had gone to Howard University but because of the depression had left on back to Harlem born in Bridgetown Barbados. Nineteen Thirteen Gwendolyn. Like Jacob became a foster child when she was seven years old. I think if you know a little bit about Jacob I think by the time he was thirteen or fourteen he. He and his mother didn't get along. He was a foster child when he went to Harlem so Gwynne was from her mother given to a family to come to the US because her mother thought that she could have a better life here so in a sense they were both orphans. Barbara Earl. Thomas is a Seattle based visual artists. She met the couple when she was a graduate student and when the couple grew old she became their caretaker. So when Gwen and Jacob finally got together they were very much on their own and I feel like people were older quicker. I mean this long childhood thing we have going on now. That's just you know that just wasn't happening you know in your fifteen years old and you're sixteen years old. You were making your way. Augusta savage also recognized. Lawrence's Talon once. You found out that he had dropped out of school to focus on painting. She made sure it wouldn't be in vain. Nineteen thirty seven thousand the officers on the project. They said I was too young but she. They advised Back next year I went back to all of Wasn't the anymore. She had not forgotten and she took me back. A sign me up. I was signed on the EASEL. The almost comically bureaucratic name easel division referred to the Group of artists who paint conventional canvas works for public throughout the city. A turning to six weeks and salary was a fabulous our at twenty. Three thousand aces. This was a major turning point. Lawrence's career here. Again is Patricia Hills. He was very involved with showing the history of African Americans in this country and also like to Saint Louis Latour in Haiti. Lawrence was twenty years ago. He was inspired to paint too sought lower from conversations. He overheard at the three. Oh six black. History had never been a major part of his formal education so he immediately immersed himself in research and it became clear that a single painting wouldn't do justice to the story he wanted to portray. I mean people don't know that that revolutionary history but the the Haitian army fought on the side of the US against the British during the revolutionary war. He wanted to bring out that history. Lawrence would choose a serial format and create work focusing on the mistreatment of patients by colonial farmers as well as low richer struggle to educate himself fight military occupation forces and achieve independence for his country completed in nineteen thirty eight. Lawrence's series the life of to Lower. -Ture consists of forty-one panels in many ways this series. What serve as a template for the more astonishing works yet to come. He was a historian as well as an artist and was very important to him to get his message and get the teachings of history across. So that's why he decided to do series so that he would have captions to each one of the pictures so that they were there almost like storyboards for a movie you know. In which you you know you go. From scene to scene and he weaves together in their rhythms really returning back to what? Elaine lock was calling artists to do in the nineteen twenties and thirties. Melanie Harby as a professor of Art History at Howard University nine that African legacy in using tools and strategies from that period to address our contemporary moment. So we see figurative representations of African Americans and powerful stances going back to New Negro Movement and Times revising African American representation. The fact that in the nineteenth century there was a whole visual program a by individuals like not only Richard Alan. The founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church the oldest African American denomination in the states but also individuals like Frederick Douglass. Either beat truth literally using their representation as a way of redefining identity. National Right so in some ways we can think about. Even what Jacob Lawrence grows to do right as a building on this kind of visual strategy of correcting misrepresentations histories of oppression. Laurence POWELL TO SALT. Literature series additional works depicting the lots of big years including Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. But his most ambitious work was yet to come By nineteen thirty nine Jacob Lawrence had already completed two major series on black heroic figures. Toussaint L'Ouverture Frederick Douglass. He was at work on a third covered the life of Harriet Tubman and now he began contemplating a new subject. Among the many supporters of Jacob Lawrence. His latest work was professor and Pylos for Lane. Lock by this time. Lock supported already. Gotten off forty-one panels up the lower series in an exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art at just twenty one years of age Lawrence was featured in Newsweek and in a letter to lock Lawrence described his latest ambition. My proposed plan is to interpret in a sufficient number of panels eighteen by twelve the Great Negro Migration North during the World War on April Seventeenth Nineteen Forty Jacob received the news he had been selected to receive a fellowship of fifteen hundred dollars from the Rosenwasser Fund to complete his ambitious work on the great migration. I I read it I was. I think it was thirty. Three and all of the whole community was between limits and the seven thousand dollars and I pay eight dollars a month for loss and That was what I first studio. What am I work together? As what the previous three projects Lawrence didn't start with sketches but with research the great migration marked departure from his earlier. Work here's Patricia Hills. After Harriet Tubman he decided that rather than focus on the lives of unique individuals he was going to focus on the people. You know that it was a people's movement. Migration wasn't one single person who is the leader. Laura spent endless hours of Schaumburg Centre for Research Black Culture at the one hundred thirty Fifth Street Public Library. He studied the literature of W. E. Boys like historian Carter G Woodson and Emmett J Scott Whose Book Negro Migration during the war served as a backbone to the series. The final result was pretty much the inverse of how painters usually work rather than making a painting and anguishing over what to call it. Lawrence did just the opposite. He anguished over the titles for paintings before he even did. Preliminary sketches them Palo number to the world. War had caused a great shortage in northern industry and also citizens of foreign countries were returning home. Well we captions. Were very important to him. Because it was a history lesson he wanted people to look at the caption and look at the picture and see the relationship panel number four. The Negro was the largest source of labor to be found after all others had been exhausted. Panel number five. The negroes were given free passage on the railroads which was paid back by northern industry. It wasn't agreement that the people brought north on these railroads were to pay back their passage after they had received jobs and sometimes there is close relationships and sometimes there is a more tenuous relationship but basically he wanted you to think about. He wanted you to read the captions Pat on Number Forty One. The South that was interested in keeping cheap labor was making it very difficult for labor agents recruiting southern Labor for northern firms. In many instances they were put in jail and were forced to operate incognito. He wanted the pictures to be shown in order. That was very important to him. He has twenty works. That are about the south panel number thirteen due to the south losing so much of its. Labor. The crops were left to dry and spoil twenty about the north where the migrants went to panel number forty nine. They also found discrimination in the north although it was much different from that which they had known in the South and then twenty about the struggles of getting their marching of getting on the train. So waiting for the trainings of looking out the windows from the trains that number twelve the railroad stations at times so over packed with people leaving that special guards had to be called in to keep order. That's a wonderful series. If you look it from left to right you know. It goes the rhythms of Horizontal Vertical. And then another vertical and then another horizontal and there is a really rhythm there that almost be like a call and response as he's weaving together in the sixty panels so it's really a beautiful series the way it was orchestrated next. Lawrence translated his captions into studies. On paper which evolved into sketches on his final hardboard panels assisted by his then girlfriend. Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Brush several layers of rabbit. Skin Jess over hardboard panels and sand them smooth. The Jessica was notorious for leaving tiny air bubbles. Which when painted left white streaks throughout the painting Lawrence didn't paint one painting at a time he painted sixty in stages at the same time and completed the work one color at a time. I painted them. Columbine Colorado blocks through running the reds through each problem. I did this in Law to maintain unity not finish one panel. Then go to the next go to next because star might have changed. My approach might've changed panel number. Thirty seven the Negroes that have been brought north worked in large numbers and one of the principal industries which was steal by the way. I think of this as not works. What one work consistent sixty Powell's panel number nineteen there had always been discrimination so this to To maintain the unity spirit of what I was dealing panel number forty four living conditions were better in the north of the work was devout. Jacob is known as a master of temporary fast. Drying water base paint US mostly by illustrators and sign. Painters temporary is cheap and easily achieves bold pay colors through layering awhile. It's great for photographic reproduction the speed with which it dries and it's flat application makes it hard to convey nuanced effects like shadows and shading. It's a quality that highlights Lawrence's brilliant use of distorted angles and abstract compositions and see like moves lie. His moves are just great. Dirk Adams is a visual artist in New York. Like high implement certain like new color and every painting. He has his basic and very recognizable Paletta. He uses to our work but every now and then he ought throwing a certain type of pattern or color. That is just very unique to the narrative of that particular piece. One of the panels depicts a woman sitting at our kitchen table exhausted with her head. Down Panel numbers sixteen although the Negro was used to lynching he found this an opportune time for him to leave. Where one had occurred to me when I look at those paintings where the tables like pretty tilt it in perspective to almost looks like it's like leaning into your viewpoint as A person standing in front of the work. I feel like his tables invitation to be a participant. Deny even this painting. We're looking at right now. This woman leaning on the table. It almost like you can lift her up and say like girls go to bed or something. You rarely see paintings of Jacob where Jacob has done where the figure is addressing. You directly is really more about you being able to glimpse have a glimpse into a certain reality that you may or may not be necessarily connected to as a viewer and so you become a witness in some ways and so this way I like about the work. A lot is that is not really about you. The subject acknowledging you is about you acknowledging the experience of the subject do their reality so they're posturing to me always seem more about the plight. An attitude of the black subject at a time in the migration series Lawrence uses motifs such as trains crossroads ladders for example to bring depth and continuity to the series movement these symbols of movement to me loudest represent the big cities cities like New York and later when we arrived. Nineteen thirty my family. Seeing these fire escapes and seeing six story building from short. I saw these things up to but they didn't mean as much tooling. And here. I would see this pattern over and over again beautiful patterns and all to my paintings not only in the migration says louder Motif and I use it to to directly. I I use it. As part of the composition number three in every town negroes leaving by the hundreds to go north and enter into northern industry in the story of my Alicia Hall Moran and her husband Jason Moran or musicians whose work explores the legacies of the black experience. There are people there are birds. There is barren land and pure blue sky. The people have luggage under their arms and their mid stride. The TRIANGLE SHAPE. They make the pyramid sheep. The migration of birds does incorporate that first bird in the front breaking the air opening the space. And then the next to taking on some of that burden and then the air opening up for the ones in the back to rest and then they will take turns being in front and so I think the family the people being in such triangle one that reaches up towards the sky like we want more. We're going left in the country or right but this is to take a step up a vertical prayer for ourselves and to be parallel by the birds in this way but the bird is the farthest out front is so beautiful. Like we're not alone and that we are wanting the most natural fame's and that if we do like the birds doodle we cannot go wrong. We might die but we will not be wrong. This is forty five and this is one of my favorites. Because it's optimistic panel number forty five. They arrived in Pittsburgh. One of the great industrial centers of the North and large numbers. You know you have the the black family sitting in the railroad car. They're looking out the window at industry you can see industry with those big chimneys and the smoke kind of pouring out and there's a little baby their babies are also often symbolic of the new future and then they have this basket of food. You know sort of on on on that on that ledge there which You know the the basket of food is served symbolic that the there's going to be more food. You know like a Cornucopia you know and and they're looking they're smiling. You know the man on the right smiling down and his child you know the one I really like. Is that one of those stairs that are going up to kind of a sky. Panel Forty six industries attempted to board their labor in quarters that were oftentimes very unhealthy labor camps. Were numerous Barbara Earl Thomas. There's not even a person in there the stairs that start out large at the bottom and get really narrow when they go to the top and then there's just a door and the sky and I love that one because he used those same stairs near when he made the Olympic poster. That can't remember what year he did that. He has a a track that the guys are running around and it's the same stare that's wrapped around. So you know he took that design element flattened it and made it go around in this and turned into a track so I love it when I find things that are kind of reused images in his work once. The series was completed gallery. I Women Edith how to arrange to see the migration series person. She was so struck by the series that she had the panels currier to the time. Life building to Debra Calkins. The Assistant Art Director Report magazine Lawrence Received News a few weeks later that fortune intended to include twenty six of his panels and the magazine's November nineteen forty one issue so either the ranch to special feeling of the work that November third the larger scale exhibition. She plan would take place. In December a series. She was calling American Negro Art. Meanwhile Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight were married having never even been to the south. They took a trip to New Orleans. Edith wrote to Laurence asking whether he was interested in selling the pieces individually and to set a price for the entire series Lawrence. Made it clear that he had no intention of breaking up the series and a sail. No no he. He was very resistant to having broken up and they they had to talk to say look. These are two major museums. It was conceived as a single story and Shit remain as such. They settled on two thousand dollars for the series about thirty six thousand dollars in today's value at the same time that the images were published in fortune. Magazine Edith. How her began showing the work in her gallery. Howard's plan was to stage an opening. That would be a grand event including a performance by Blues Guitarist. Josh White Harlem highlanders off all the lead in the lanes and Sun. The guest list included. Paul Robeson photographer. Carl van Becton First Lady. Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr David Levy and his wife Adele Trustees of the Museum of Modern Art Halpern. Aim to create a Negro art. Fun To give grants to black artists and exhibitions of their work in museums and elsewhere. She was also gearing up to ask New York dealers to add black artists to their rosters. The plans for the big opening were falling into place but then just a day before the opening on December. Seventh back immoral. We have with this mark a Pearl Harbor and they bombing of our by Barry Arroyo Broomhall. All of the deal is backed out of this idea of taking one. Black artist onto its roster. They weren't taking any artist time back. There were cutting back. Edith Howard was the only one who went through with the original idea and I was at artists selected. The opening was still on among those who attended. Alfred Barr the director of the Museum of Modern Art as well as Duncan Phillips. A philanthropist and collector who was beginning to assemble one of the country's first modern art collections. He had spoken about going to see the important African American art. Show that help. It was organizing in her gallery downtown. Gallery also Smith. Gall is a senior curator for the Phillips Collection. He is clearly very taken with the panels because we soon learned that he's arranging to have helper send them to the Phillips for an exhibition to open in February the very next month before the exhibition even had a chance to open however Moma had already decided that they wanted to buy half the series and so that sort of hastens the need for a decision from Duncan Phillips and so he just Howard is writing a letter furiously to Marjorie. Who is the assistant director? So the letter comes to Marjorie asking if they would like to buy the other half and so it's Bert who comes up with this idea? It's totally Halliburton. The savvy dealer but he you know she sees that when Alfred Barr the director then at Moma came to see the work. He was really excited. I said Dunkin Phillips comes and sees it. He's very excited. And there's a third player in the mix. I want to mention in that is Adele Levy Levy was the daughter of Julius Rosenberg. Law The creator of the Fund. That had actually underwritten the creation of the migration series. She was also on the sponsorship board for eat at how it's event featuring the work. Pretty Savvy move on alpers part but the long story is that she is interested in acquiring the series and being that she can afford to acquire. It chooses to buy it and gift. It the half to Moma so they have a wonderful opportunity here to have this member of their board great supporter of Lawrence. Buy It for them. So she will be a great stimulus for than the moment that I said where they come to Phillips so then the question is how do you divide this series seeking to keep the potential cell alive? Edith helper made an interesting proposition. We can do at one of two ways. We can take the series and divided down the middle so one thirty and thirty one to sixty four. We can do the odd panels for the Phillips and the even panels for Moma. They understood why that really was a better way to more authentically represent the series in that the series starts in the south to tell the story of this great migration panel number one during the World War there was a great migration north by Southern Negros. And it's only at the mid point of the series that Lawrence Shifts and we move north just as the migrants move north panel number thirty one. After arriving north the Negros had better housing conditions by the middle of the series. His story will shift and we start to see the migrants there at the train again. And they're looking at Pittsburgh through the window of the train. The smoke stacks. And so you cannot imagine telling a complete story without seeing some aspects of what was unfolding in the south and some in the north so therefore you really do need to have the Auden even split. The other would never be true to trying to capture this important story and the other little twist is that there was a panel forty six there was a particular piano. Adele apparently expressly loved above all. She loved them all but clearly. She had a favorite panel number forty. Six Industries attempted to board their Labor in Quarters. That were oftentimes very unhealthy. Labor camps were numerous. And the reason we weren't going to be given the even for example and Moma odd was very much driven by making sure the half Moma had included panel forty six. So that's another little twist in the story. Jacob Lawrence was pretty pleased at the news to have to prestigious institutions purchase. The work effectively keeping it together after the migration series was purchased. It was arranged that the entire series. We'RE GONNA two year fifteen national tour culminating in an exhibition at Moma in October. Nineteen forty four. I just twenty three years. Old Lawrence was famous. He had produced a series that over the course of his sixty plus year career will be considered a masterwork. His signature style would inspire generations of artists for years to come by the late. Nineteen fifties social issues arising from civil rights struggle had given birth to the controversial titled Black Arts Movement. What do you mean when you say black? We know what we mean when we say Asian or native American art is a picture comes with mine. It's right in certain context as long as it's understood as long as you're communicating. This is black art because it was produced by black person. Sorry but on the hand another break say well. The form is Western. So how could it be black? Lawrence was now teaching at Pratt Institute in New York and well into a decade of mainstream acceptance into the art world. Protest art became popular among emerging black artists and to them. The migration series may have seemed a bit tepid take for example panel fifteen panel number fifteen. Another cause was lynching. It was found that where there had been a lynching the people who were reluctant to leave at. I left immediately. After this and this painting Lawrence deliberately chooses to paint the effect lynching has on people left behind more than the act of lynching itself we see a lone figure hunched over in grief just having lost a loved one surrounded by barren underneath an empty news lawrence is sparse composition and tendency to veer away from depicting the harsh conditions faced by blacks. Literal terms was now suspect awhile. Lawrence's critics argue that these choices were made to make the work more palatable to white. Derek Adams argues that Lawrence has choice reflects the exact opposite that the work was explicitly made for black audience. I don't think like people are any way at Amnesia when it comes to turmoil and strife and ARA. I think that we're constantly reminded we're talking about. We talked about an elementary school. Middle School is on TV while we need see people hanging. I don't really think are necessary for us. I think it's for other people who are sympathizing with our struggle. Derek Adams I and comment the work of Jacob Lawrence. It was transformative experience. One that prompted him to follow. Lawrence to New York with hopes of becoming his student at Pratt Institute. That didn't pan out but dare continues to honor. Lawrence's legacy both in studio and in his classroom. He points out the challenge of balancing beauty and socially responsible subject matter with his black students in our practice. We are really concerned with form in content. Because that's where you have to learn at art. School is form in. If you don't have content you have to learn how to make stuff a lot of young. Black Artists Focus more on content. Because they believe that they had to talk about something like an artist told me one time and older artists said as a black person you know. America has given us a lot to talk about a lot to make work about. It's up to us. Decide what we want to pull out of that will empower us by doing it. I'm always emphasizing that when I'm teaching primarily with a black student because that's an issue that it comes up pretty often more so than any other student is about content and form but I tell them all the time. Eating make is GonNa be talking about something you know like this narrative that had been set in place in oppressive structure is one of the things that is pretty common. We look at you as a person who's been through stuff even if you have not necessarily been do stuff but your representative of that. Dirk Adams is a multidisciplinary artist but like Lawrence. Bold colors and a degree of abstraction are foundational to his work. Derek also uses the serial format to focus on the power and significance inherent in the normal lives of black people. I make what I want to see that I don't see in the world. I'm can't really making the series called style variation. You still have power again. The body to black subject is political subject and we bring politics with us and we bring with us so we don't have to own any particular day in order to be relevant and powerful. You know we are. I don't think that we have to focus as much on the oppressive structures around us as we do about the perseverance that we represent every on a daily basis. You know the fact that we're still here in the world based on all the things that happened to us it shows to me. The most supernatural thing you can think about dirk has made installation. That compiles one hundred images from Lawrence's personal archive and to a wallpaper that covers a room and includes his personal effects some images of him with celebrities patrons. Very bride very dimensional. If I was going to be a part of the exhibition that I could tackle another area of Jacob's experience that was not known it was not public. There were moments in these photographs that you can kind of see his humanity in a different way laughing and meditative images of him just sitting at a table and I also was granted permission to use his studio armchair that was tattered in very personalized to be kind of the the anchor for the environment and to me as an artist this was even more relevant than the paintings. Way Getting back to making the works that reflect who we are now. Dean Jacob was a pioneer person that kind of gave us permission to say. It's okay to make a painting of us just sitting in the living room is okay to make a painting in the classroom like he made those paintings you know. In his twenties panel number twenty three and the migration spread in two thousand fifteen mama asked me to craft a musical event about migration series the result the migration rhapsody it was a collaborative performance from a community of artists. Lawrence were committed to mining history and shaping new narratives around the black experience. Everybody Shadow was black. Shut up my collaborators. Included paneth's Jason Moran and his wife Classical Vocal Performance Alicia Hall Moran Jason. I encountered the migration series when he was nineteen. I think as a musician you jazz musician. That plays piano doesn't use lyrics at all. How do you get to storytelling? Very rarely does disgust in improvisational language. How do you tell a story but then when you go see the paintings and you see you know the captions on the sides you know and then you watch the progression and then you watch the terror and then you watch the angles and then you watch the flatness? That he's made these pieces you know. And also their intimate they're small pieces and the series is extremely long. It feels like you're listening to an opera right like you watching this unfold and you're not sure whose story is GonNa come up next the next panel. The spirit of spontaneity is something that many folks from the south brought with them to the north and it was a web survival for them. It wasn't a gimmick being clever thinking on your feet wasn't an artistic expression. That was a way of life. So when approximating Jason's experience with the work as a nineteen year old. I asked him to play in response to images from the series with no prior knowledge of what they appear a panel number fifty one in many cities in the north where the Negros had been overcrowded in their own living quarters. They attempted to spread out this resulted in many of the race. Riots and the bombing of Negro poems panel number fifty race. Riots were very numerous all over the north because of the antagonism that was caused between the Negro and white workers many of these riots occurred because the Negro was used as a strike breaker in many of the northern industries. Whether it's something that music doesn't especially the piano because it's an old instrument itself then it can really switch gears very quickly. What I like is seeing. How color of accord matches a color. The flatness of his black that he has on on the painting or are you then. Now the activity of the bird in the sky right change the perspective of where you play from recently Jason and Alicia deepen their contributions to the migration narratives with works like two wings the music of Black America and migration a concert series exhibiting both contemporary spoken word and original music which they played at Carnegie Hall in preparation for the series. Jason Lucia underwent a process echoing that of Jacob Lawrence we read we reread Isabel. Wilkerson 's profoundly explosive documentary novel the warmth of Other Suns Book that my mother handed me many years before and said. Oh this explains our family read it? Chickasaw County Mississippi late October. Nineteen thirty. Seven item May Brandon glac Ni. Tonight clouds were closing in on the Salt Lake's east of the ox bow lakes along the folds in the earth beyond the yellow Bouche River and she came from an she read selections from the Book. That we all felt would highlight the music that we had chosen to share. It was very special and in a certain kind of deep career. Long way very monumental you can hear my grandparents voices and songs that I've written Literally you can hear their voice similar to Lawrence who at the south before ever going there. Jason and Alicia sometimes wrote about experiences. They've never personally lived that. Probably when you say this part about him never visiting the south which is like we also talk about curt vile never you know. Never getting to the south but loving to write about it. I love that you say that Jason Kidd reminds me also of the opera from the beginnings of Opera in America. You having an audience fill of people wild majority of whom have never been to Austria. And we'll never go. It doesn't mean they can't understand not said Figura they don't speak Italian but it doesn't mean they don't understand love and betrayal and passion and buffoonery painter. He was able to put it down. That's the art. That's the amazing part. It's so real. It's so common people walking with their bags hoping for a better life like pray and like you know going home or going somewhere hoping head dragging you know but then who can paint it so you're only going to get only so many people who when you go into museum you don't think what is it you that's me. That's my grandmother. Ooh That was me last night. Then that's what the stuff panel number fifty nine in the north. The Negro had freedom to vote in recent years. I've done a bit of research on my own migration history which brings me to this land or my parents were granted the opportunity to establish a home after being emancipated from slavery. You know we're in mid County Mississippi Which is borders Louisiana? So we're right by the Louisiana State Line. We are on the grounds of Multiple Baptist Church in a county and There's a church cemetery over there and on that side of the street. There's a family cemetery. This property that we're walking on came into my maternal family in eighteen. Seventy eight there was a homestead I guess give away of land To former enslave people My great great grandfather guy by the name of Jerry. Steptoe born in eighteen fifty three in his wife. A niece who was born in fifty five they acquired seventy nine acres of land right here. But this is for me is where started. Man This is this is the legacy piece. This is the first property that I could identify that. We own coming out of emancipation for me man on this side of the Atlantic. This is where my story begins. My great great grandfather. Jerry steptoe was emancipated in eighteen. Eighty eight got eighty acres of land years later. His land was given to his grandson. He W steptoe. Uw was literate. He owned land to requirements. That still made the right to vote elusive for many black southerners. He W was granted the right to vote but given the fact that his neighbors and relatives didn't have that same right. He made it his duty to help the people in this community to help them become landowners to help them attain that right to vote so he and my grandfather Louis acquired hundreds of acres of land by the nineteen forties and began selling the land. Nacre two acres here and there to black folks who were unable to get bank loans. So you know my earliest days of remembering coming down here. I was probably probably about five years old and I remember that because my grandfather mail such an influence on me and he was just so you know he had a bunch of acres and I would just say GRANDPA. Where's where's your property? And he says far as can see that way that way that way in that way as far as you can see and when he would leave I would try to walk. You know I just be walking through the woods. My mother be nervous. 'cause HE OVER SNAKES OUT THERE. I guess I didn't care man. It was my grandfather so I just felt safe and I thought I was him and I remember going to school as a child going to elementary school and saying that my name was Louis Stepdaughter. And my teacher call my mother. Confused said Terrence Santa. His name is Louis and she didn't understand what was going on my grandfather. We'll tell me you know. He told my mother. When this boy gras he gonNA take care displace? He's GonNa take care of the place for that. It was like he put this huge crown above my head. I'm Louis After. I didn't know all of what he had done but I knew it was important. You know I do that as far as I can. Look in all these directions. It was his property. I knew that these people around had such respect for him for having to look at me as eight-year-old. That's it at the same time both my parents migrated to Cleveland in the nineteen fifties. My father decided he wanted to go to seminary. That's where I was born while my mother's siblings followed suit to places like Cleveland family went to Chicago. My grandparents stay put he worked with the W Mastaba Stat. Cpi Chapter and they helped fight for voting rights. Right there in that community in liberty here is A. W. Greeting Bob Moses who came down there from Harlem as leader of a voter rights registration drive emit county. It's a nineteen sixty three. I do think that every and Kinda should an election and I entrust that I will have the privilege to vote lots of twice in my life. After grandfather's death. The land was passed down to my mother and fell into a bit of disrepair. Eventually we were able to convince her to pass ownership of the property down to myself and my siblings so we wrap our arms around it and take care of it as a family. This is Mount Sinai Baptist Church or as I say down here Mancini. This is where my grandfather Louis was a a deacon. This is where he's buried in the Church cemetery and my grandmother some uncles checkpoint alone this is where I come to solve all my issues talking to him out here on his grave to sitting right there looking down towards the property just commuting these people now with my grandparents asking them what they wanted me to do about school about marriage about life about the property. I would just sit and wait on the ads or even always asked me right away. Sometimes he won't say anything you know and I would just come back. My grandfather made us living in pulpwood. Pine is Mississippi's number one export and those who plant pine trees know that it's like a twenty five year investment. You cut after the first twelve years maybe six years later. But then you do the full cut twenty five years so these trees cross-strait up towards the sky that will goes to make paper paneling flooring my grandfather owned public trucks and I go out there with them. Every summer you know what the chainsaw and his crew he no hearing them Holler timber. That's real man out in those woods so as I was sitting there waiting for my grandfather give me some sign as to what I should do with the land. It occurred to me do what he was never able to do. So right now over there on that property more forty thousand trees planning on forty five acres of land I worked with the State of Mississippi who provides a percentage of the cost for planting. But they require that the trees reach maturity before being sold this. No doubt to me was an intimidating idea but always think about how difficult it must have been for them. Given the Jim Crow laws giving the clan being so rapid in this part of the state mother used to tell stories about my grandfather he w sitting out on the Porch Man. What rifles just in case? Somebody tried to run them off this property so for me given what I know now I have no excuse not to be able to come down here and work with the state and work with the community and continue that legacy that has been a part of my family since eighteen sixty five. I knew about him purchasing this land in Jim Crow. I knew that story I knew about him. Holding onto the land you know I knew about black folks losing their land so I thought any hurdle that I had to chop was significantly less than what he did so I figured I could do something and I just wanted to do what he did so I wanted to do that. The trees just seemed like something we could do as a an honor of him since he worked with trees all of his life panel number twenty seven. Many men stayed behind until they could bring their families. North panel number thirty in every home people who had not gone north met and tried to decide if they should go north or not. I don't own property in New York City. But here it's like. I know that my mother played on this property. I know she walked this land another. My parents got married right over there on those stairs over there in nineteen fifty. One you don't feel like you know I'm stuck somewhere because I can come back here. Exist looking out there and seeing all my ancestors knowing the kind of work they did kind of sacrifices they may listen to the wind smell of those trees. I mean I come out here. I just feel peace peace. I don't have to do any better man. I just WANNA do justice. Well panel number sixty and the migrants kept coming By the time Barbara. Earl Thomas met Jacob Lawrence. He was settled in Seattle. As a tenured professor. At the University of Washington this was the nineteen seventies and though he became her mentor and Graduate Advisor HIS WIFE. Wendelin became her family Jacob treasured his relationship with his wife she had helped him create the migration series and that catapulted them both onto a journey of art and discovery that span there fifty nine years of marriage. There was a really intense respect between them about their work and he would say that you know part of how I help assess. My work is having Glen. Come in look at it when I'm ready to have her look at it and they would have discussion you know. Would you like me to visit your studio? And she said Yeah. Come over. Have something I want you to see. She take it out she show it to him and he would do the same. It wasn't a free for all. She couldn't just go into the studio and just start. You know Leveling her opinion that was not gonNA happen. Jacob Lawrence died in June two thousand of lung cancer. Jake never ask me to take care of Gwen. But I felt like you know he wasn't there so I get on the phone and I made a calendar and we had people here. I said if you said you're really their friends and you always about you know how much you love them. Here's your big chance. People like our former mayor Norman rice and his wife Constance Norman would come over and I said okay. You've got Thursday evening. You can pick her up. She likes to go and be with people who are fun and exciting and I year funding cycle team. So you guys come get her so he would come get her and people stepped up. They did their jobs. Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence died five years after her husband and two thousand five Jacob and Gwen had always intended to move back to New York Luther Days in place. They both considered home. But that never happened and so just as a migration have brought them together and set the course of their lives they would end up having another migration of sorts after death just occurred to me. I said it's time for you to go back. So I got their ashes which I had their ashes. I put them in my backpack. Then I had these friends. He's really wonderful friends at that also helped me take care of quitting. Jacob the flowers Bob and Mickey Flowers and they said you can't to yourself. I should okay then this so they decided that they were gonNA come with me. And then we were. GonNa do a memorial for Gwen at Saint John. The divine so I said No. You Take Gwen. And I'll take Jacob and don't let them out of your sight don't put them down. Let's not something we can leave on the airplane so we took them back. Took them to Saint John Devine which is where they are now and Harlem less than thirty blocks from where Jacob with Gwinnett aside painted the migration series and then we had At Radley spoke and a number of people spoke at the Memorial for Glenn and Jacob. And then they were interred there in the columbarian so they made it back haul. That's where they are our American icon story on the Migration Series Paintings by Jacob Lawrence was produced by Carl's got our associate producers Roslyn towards silliness and Lauren Francis and our visor was the Darpa Mirror. Pedro Raphael Rosado was our engineer. The migration series captions were read by Karen Chilton special. Thanks to the Phillips Collection Museum of African American history. Posi Regan Lanny Burton. Dorothy Jones Mary Jones and Christopher Johnson. Andrew Newman is studio three sixties senior editor. And our technical director the Sandra Lopez Montale Bay Jocelyn. Gonzales is our executive producer studio three sixties. American icons is supported by the National Endowment of the humanities and you can find all of our icon stories at studio three sixty dot org. I'm tariffs McKnight. Thanks for listening. Thanks for and you can subscribe to studio three six t wherever you get podcasts.