A famous painter, narrator, and exegete of African-American experience and culture, Jacob Lawrence was born to a family of southerners in 1917 in Atlantic City. His family moved North in hopes to find a better life in the northern parts of the country. As a child, Jacob experienced multiple moves. One of the reasons for the latter was, because Jacob and his two siblings lived in foster homes and settlement houses for some time until their mother could support them in New York. But Jacob and his mother, along with his two other siblings settled in Harlem at last, when Jacob was thirteen years of age. While attending an after-school program at Utopia Children’s Center, Jacob discovered drawing and painting for himself. He spent every free minute he got painting, but in the chain of events, was forced to drop out of school and go to work instead, in order to support family when his mother lost her job during Great Depression. Lawrence was lucky not only to meet but also work with a prominent artist such as Charles Alston. After he received a scholarship to study at America Artists School, he got more and more famous for his dramatic and at the same time very lively depiction of both existent scenes from African-American urban life as well as scenes from historical events. All of his paintings, Jacob, expressed in clear, vivid colors, dynamic patterns, crisp shapes, and sensitive gestures and postures of characters. Lawrence’s first solo exhibition took place in 1938 at Harlem YMCA.
In 1940, he received a grant from the Rosenwald, with a goal to create a series of images that would picture the migration of African-Americans from the South. 1941 turned out to be a banner year for Jacob Lawrence. Not only he got married to his fellow painter Gwendolyn Knight, but it was also the same year that his “The Migration of the Negro” exhibition debuted at the Downtown Gallery. The success of this exhibition brought him fame and acknowledgement throughout the nation. Lawrence taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and later in Maine’s Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and New York School for Social research in New York in 1946. In 1971, Jacob took a position as a Professor of Painting at the University of Washington, located in Seattle. In his later career, Lawrence was also known for his paintings that were completed in his earlier years as well as his illustration work. Jacob Lawrence was still active as a painter and kept busy preparing for yet another series of works when he died in 2000 in Seattle.