Lawrence is probably among the best-known twentieth century African American painters, a distinction also shared by Romare Bearden. Lawrence's Migration Series made him nationally famous when it was featured in a 1941 issue of Fortune Magazine. The series depicts the great move north of blacks in the Depression years.
Lawrence was born on September 7, 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He had a sister named Geraldine and a brother named William. They moved many times over the course of his life but he first made his name in Harlem in 1930, where he went to school at Utopia Children's House in addition to studying at the Harlem Art Workshop under Henry Bannarn and Charles Alston. Lawrence married Gwendolyn Knight as a young man after receiving a job with the Works Progress Administration. He finally settled in Seattle, Washington and became an art professor at the University of Washington where some of his works are now displayed in the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering and in Meany Hall for the Performing Arts. The piece in the main lobby of Meany Hall entitled "Theatre" was commissioned for the hall in 1985. In 1998 he received Washington State's highest honor, The Washington Medal of Merit.
Jacob Lawrence painted many of his painting about Harlem Renaissance like one of his famous ones "Brown Stones" At the age of twenty-three Lawrence completed his sixty piece Toussaint l'Ouverture series, which chronologically documented the history of the Haïtian Revolution. These works documented Columbus's discovery of Haiti on December 6, 1492, and chronicled Toussaint's victory over the French with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on January 1, 1804. Between 1986 and 1997 Lawrence revisited this theme with a series of 15 screenprints based on these paintings.
Lawrence's work often portrayed important periods in African-American history. Among his works are a series of pieces about the abolitionist John Brown and another about Haitian revolutionary Toussaint l'Ouverture, as well as numerous depictions of Harriet Tubman. He was awarded the US National Medal of the Arts in 1990. The overall aim of his paintings were to give blacks reason to have pride, a sense of accomplishment, and hope for their future.
- Jane Glaubinger, Jacob Lawrence's Toussaint, on absolutearts.com. Accessed online 25 August 2006.
- Jacob Lawrence on the site of the Computer Science Department, University of Washington.
- About Meany Hall on the site of the University of Washington, including photo of Jacob Lawrence's "Theatre".
- Jacob Lawrence on the site of the Queens Museum; includes reproductions of several prints from the John Brown series.