The Great Migration

The Great Migration

Many aspects of the migrants’ experience are represented throughout the 60 panels that comprises The Migration Series. Jacob Lawrence evokes a sense of the migrants’ hope on their journey north and the realities of their new life in northern cities.

While the last panel leaves the audience feeling hopeful with the caption, “And the migrants kept coming,” the previous 59 panels express a range of stories filled with challenges and hope that include finding new jobs, homes and communities, living in crowded urban environments, and facing a new form of discrimination.

How did Lawrence express the migrant experience through the artistic choices he made? What sort of color, shape, composition, and line choices did he make to convey a specific story or mood?

In the classroom applications, students have many opportunities to explore and empathize with the migrant experience through writing, drawing, and theater.


In the Classroom: Living Picture Activity

This activity exemplifies how the Prism.K12 empathize strategy can be used to teach the visual and language arts.

Ask students to look closely at Panel No. 21 (above). Then, invite a group of students to the front of the classroom. Ask each student to select a character from the painting. Students will then arrange themselves in the way that the characters are depicted in the painting (read more information on this activity, also known as Tableau Vivant). Once the students are in character, ask:

  • What are they feeling?
  • What might they say to each other?

You can try this activity with different panels and groups of students.

This activity is an opportunity for students to empathize with the migrant experience by physically getting into their physical position and emotional mindset as a way to understand how they might have felt.

After completing the Tableaux Vivant activity, students can respond to the following questions:

  • What would it be like to leave your home?
  • How might you feel?
  • What would you bring with you?

In the Classroom: Poetry and Art Activity

Langston Hughes wrote the poem One Way Ticket in 1949. His poem looks back at the Great Migration and encapsulates the sense of hope and promise the migrants felt.

Students begin by reading Hughes’s poem. Then, compare Hughes’s list of northern cities in the first stanza (“Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Scranton”) to the map of railroad lines (above) where the students can visualize the travel distances between cities.

After students read the poem and find the cities on the map, pass out the Poetry and Art worksheet. Students will examine Hughes’s poem and the rhythm of his poetry and then have an opportunity to express their reaction to a panel of their choosing by writing their own poem in the rhythm and style of Langston Hughes.