Jacob Lawrence, The Migration of the Negro Panel no. 3: In every town Negroes were leaving by the hundreds to go North and enter into Northern industry, 1940 – 1941. Image and original data provided by The Phillips Collection, © 2005 Estate of Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence / Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Jacob Lawrence, The Migration of the Negro Panel no. 3: In every town Negroes were leaving by the hundreds to go North and enter into Northern industry, 1940 – 1941. Image and original data provided by The Phillips Collection, © 2005 Estate of Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence / Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Jacob Lawrence painted “The Migration of the Negro,” a series of 60 small panels describing the passage of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban North, in 1940 and 1941. The works combined the vibrancy of modernism, the content of history painting, and the urgency of political art. The electrifying results catapulted the young artist into fame and the history books.

Lawrence saw the series as a single work, but a year after its completion the Museum of Modern Art acquired the even-numbered pictures and the Phillips Collection in Washington the others, and opportunities to see all the paintings together have been rare. Which is a pity. As art critic Holland Cotter wrote in The New York Times“…only in the complete series can we fully grasp the sinewy moral texture of art that is in the business of neither easy uplift nor single-minded protest.”