Jacob Lawrence believed his paintings were “a portrait of myself, a portrait of my community.” The community he grew up around included artist and mentor Charles Alston and leading philosopher Alain LeRoy Locke.
Lawrence witnessed the creation of Alston’s mural Magic and Medicine at the Harlem Hospital. This image was consistent with both Alston’s interest in showing heroic African American figures and Locke’s philosophy of making connections between African American imagery and contemporary African American experience.
The people of Harlem and their rich heritage were constant sources of inspiration for Lawrence. The community experience—its triumphs and tragedies, its dreams and disappointments, its pleasures and humility, collectively forged by the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Depression era—lives on in his paintings.
Use the classroom applications to help students understand how Lawrence and other artists were inspired to express new ideas about racial identity and pride.
In the Classroom: Harlem Renaissance Research Activity
Although the dates are debated, most historians agree that the Harlem Renaissance united artists in giving voice to the African American experience with a strong sense of racial pride and political equality.
The photograph of the 306 Workshop, a collective made up of artists, musicians, and writers who rented studio space at 306 West 141st Street in Harlem.
Research the individuals who were part of the 306 workshop. How did the different writers, artists, and musicians express the ideas of Alain LeRoy Locke and the Harlem Renaissance through their various art forms? After learning about these individuals and the Harlem Renaissance, ask students to create their own composition—visual, written, or musical—that represents their understanding of the ideas of the Harlem Renaissance.
In the Classroom: Comparing Harlem Renaissance Writers Activity
The pursuit of a new life in the North gave rise to a psychological shift: African Americans believed they could shed old attitudes and foster positive notions of racial identity. Even their physical move to the North came to symbolize a take-charge outlook. Alain LeRoy Locke began referring to themselves as “New Negro’s.?
Ask students to read Locke’s essay that appeared in the magazine Survey Graphic and Langston Hughes’s poem “I, Too.” How does Hughes’s poem reflect the idea of the “New Negro”? How does Lawrence depict this idea in The Migration Series? How do these different art forms connect to and express this new outlook?