The yellow basket and the yellow summer hat in They Arrived in Pittsburgh suggest that there will be a picnic. The grimy factory stacks spewing smoke suggest otherwise. The basket and hat symbolize the hope that in Pittsburgh (or any other industrial city), the traveling family will find good life with jobs and housing. But in 1941 when Jacob Lawrence portrayed them in The Migration Series, he knew that these Southerner migrants had already faced three decades of a hard reality and diminished dreams (and weren’t likely to find relief in the North)

Featured Image: What they found was no picnic. Jacob Lawrence. They Arrived in Pittsburgh. In The Migration Series, Panel 45 (1941), tempera on masonite. Washington, D.C. : The Phillips Collection. The series has sixty panels.

See: Micelle DuBois. Editor. The Complete Jacob Lawrence: A Catalogue Raisonnée. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000

*The Great Migration of African Americans from the agrarian South to the industrial North began during World War One and intensified in the late 1920s but declined in the 1930s. Lawrence’s series ends 1941, the cusp of the next population shift, just as the United States entered World War Two.