In 1941, Jacob Lawrence, then just 23 years old, completed a series of 60 small tempera paintings with text captions about the Great Migration, the multi-decade mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North that started around 1915. Within months of its making, the series entered the collections of The Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Memorial Gallery (today The Phillips Collection), with each institution acquiring half of the panels. Lawrence’s work is now an icon in both collections, a landmark in the history of modern art, and a key example of the way that history painting was radically reimagined in the modern era. One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North reunites all 60 panels for the first time at MoMA in 20 years.
Along with Lawrence's series, the exhibition includes other accounts of the Migration from the era, including novels and poems by writers such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Richard Wright; music by Josh White, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday; photographs by Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Gordon Parks, and Robert McNeill; sociological tracts by Carter Woodson, Charles Johnson, Emmett Scott, and Walter White; and paintings by Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, and Charles White. The range of works in the exhibition sheds light on the ways in which Lawrence drew upon and transformed contemporary models for representing black experience in America.
In conjunction with One-Way Ticket, MoMA is collaborating with a variety of partners to create new commissions, projects, and events that explore the history and legacy of the Great Migration and its continuing influence on American culture—and on New York City in particular.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book, Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, copublished with The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. With the opening of the exhibition, MoMA will also debut a rich multimedia website that explores each of Lawrence’s Migration panels, accompanied by a range of visual, auditory, literary, and documentary materials.