Jacob Lawrence created a fabulous series of sixty paintings to share the story of The Great Migration. This was the movement of millions of African American people from the south to urban areas in other parts of the United States (see this map). In our school library, we have the book The Great Migration: An American Story. It includes the art series by Lawrence, notes about the content of the paintings, and a poem by Walter Dean Myers.
I read this book with fourth graders last year during our African American Read-In inspired by NCTE. This year I thought I would do a little more with the text. While prepping for my lesson, I looked online and found out that The Phillips Collection hosts a very helpful online resource about Lawrence and the series. It includes an intro, a bio of Lawrence, the entire series, clips from a videotaped interview with the artist, and more.
In one of the interview clips, Lawrence explained how he had done research for the pictures at the Schomburg Center in Harlem. For that reason, the picture book biography Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford illustrated by Eric Velasquez would also be an interesting additional resource.
There is a picture book biography of Lawrence Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, an Artist in Harlem by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts illustrated by Christopher Myers.
Another related picture book is John Brown: One Man Against Slavery by Gwen Everett with illustrations by Jacob Lawrence. The story was created to go with paintings Lawrence had previously finished. I haven't read it yet, but noticed it was in our library and provides another view of his artwork.
Two other picture books tell more about The Great Migration. This is the Rope by Jacqueline Woodson illustrated by James Ransome is inspired by the historical migration of African Americans and the migration of Woodson's mother. Her mother moved from South Carolina to Brooklyn, New York and Woodson describes it as a fictive memoir. The second book is a collection of poems, The Great Migration: Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. The families of both the author and illustrator were part of the migration. They share from both history and experience.
One other picture book may be helpful when teaching about this topic. Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey illustrated by Floyd Cooper, shares the story of an African American family traveling by car from Chicago to visit family in Alabama. While this isn't about the actual migration, it shows an effect of the migration on family members separated by geography. It also highlights some of the differences Ruth sees between her life in Chicago and the places she is traveling through and visiting. Readers learn about the discrimination and danger faced when traveling as an African American, but they also learn about the resourcefulness and kindness of fellow African Americans.
Finally, Kadir Nelson's book Heart and Soul would also serve as a helpful resource when discussing this time period. There's a chapter called "Turn of the Century and the Great Migration" and other related history is found in surrounding chapters. The information is helpful, but it would also be interesting to compare the content of the artwork of Nelson and Lawrence
These resources are a great place to start when teaching about The Great Migration. If you know of others, please include them in a comment below.
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