People! flung wide and far, born into toil, struggle, blood and dreams ... the loved and the unloved, the lonely and abandoned, the brutal and the compassionate—one big family hugging close to the ball of Earth for its life and being.
I arrived in Washington late afternoon with just enough time to go visit the Phillips Collection, where all 60 panels of Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series have been reunited in celebration of the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall. The series tells the story of the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North between the first and second world wars. I had seen the odd numbered panels at the Phillips before, and the even numbered ones at Museum of Modern Art in New York, but never taken every step of the journey with the artist’s stark images and narrative captions.
As I moved around the perimeter of the room from one 12 x 18 inch panel to the next, the scenes of overflowing railroad stations, crowded trains, bleak tenement rooms, abandoned fields, blazing foundries, menacing Southern landowners and mercenary Northern labor agents erased all other thoughts from my mind. By the time I stepped away from the last panel, captioned, “And the migrants kept coming,” the poverty and oppression I’d been immersed in made the elegance of the gallery I stood in seem unreal.