Students will learn that art is an effective way to convey a political message. They will learn what some of those political messages are and that in order to convey these political messages, artists creatively use color, shape, size, image and location.
When Art Conveys a Political Message: Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots
Time Alloted60 - 90 Minutes
State Content Standards
12.2.4 – Understand the obligations of civic-mindedness, including voting, being informed on civic issues, volunteering and performing public service, and serving in the military or alternative service.
12.5.4 – Explain the controversies that have resulted over changing interpretations of civil rights, including those in Plessy v. Ferguson
3.4 (Advanced) – Research the methods art historians use to determine the time, place, context, value, and culture that produced a given work of art.
4.1 (Proficient) – Articulate how personal beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence the interpretation of the meaning or in a work of art
5.2 (Proficient) - Create a work of art that communicates a cross-cultural or universal theme taken from literature or history.
For the Teacher:
- An overhead or computer projected image of the painting, The 1920's… The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots
- Tool titled “Art Analysis Questions”
- Information titled “About The 1920's… The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots , 1974.”
- Tool titled “Key Terms to Understanding Voting and Civil Rights”
- Tool titled “Civic Service and Civil Rights.”
For the Student:
- Enough copies of the painting The 1920's… The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots for groups of 2 or 3 students to study. These copies should not have the title of the artwork displayed anywhere.
- Enough copies of the information titled “About Voting and the Great Migration” and “About the Artist: Jacob Lawrence (1917 – 2000) for groups of 2 or 3
- Writing paper
- Pens or pencils
- Paper, either 8 ½ x 11 or 17 x 11.
1. Start by putting the students into pairs or small groups of three. Give each group or pair a copy of the art piece titled The 1920's… The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots. Make sure the title is NOT on the piece. The artwork should also be projected via computer or overhead projector to refer to throughout the lesson.
2. Ask each pair or group to study the piece, give it a title and be prepared to explain why they gave it that title.
3. After giving students time to study and title the piece, bring the class together as a whole and ask for volunteers to share their title. Make sure they justify why they gave the piece the title they chose.
4. Before giving the students the actual title, tell students that art historians have to ask questions to determine the time, place, context, value and culture that produce a given work of art. Use the following questions to engage the students in an analysis of Jacob Lawrence's art. If necessary, use the tool titled “Art Analysis Questions” as a handout or overhead to guide the students.
* How would you describe the people in this scene?
* In general, what are most of the people doing?
* What item is the central focus of this piece of art?
* How has the artist drawn your eyes toward this item?
* What item and activity is the most unusual and difficult to understand it this piece of art?
* How many basic colors does the artist use is this piece of art?
* Why do you think the artist chose these colors?
* What year do you think it is in this painting and why?
* If you had to describe the sounds taking place in this scene, what words would you use?
* Overall, what image or impression does this piece of art give you?
5. Reveal the title of the painting to the students and the name of the artist. Explain the painting using the information titled “About The 1920's… The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots , 1974.”
6. Distribute to each group either a copy of the information titled “About Voting and the Great Migration” or “About the Artist: Jacob Lawrence (1917 – 2000). Have them read it in their groups and be prepared to share details from their reading with the rest of the class.
7. After groups have read their information, start with the groups that read “About Voting and the Great Migration” and have them share what they learned about the historical context of this piece. As they describe what they learned, make sure the class as a whole understands the following terms and concepts. If necessary, use the tool titled “Key Terms to Understanding Voting and Civil Rights” as a handout or overhead to guide the students.
* 15th Amendment
* Jim Crowism
* Plessy v. Ferguson
* Literacy test
* Poll tax
* Grandfather clause
* Great Migration of WWI
* Harlem renaissance
8. Ask the groups that read “About the Artist: Jacob Lawrence (1917 – 2000)” to share what they learned about the artist.
9. Assign each pair or group one of the characters from the painting, The 1920's… The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots. Distribute or display the assignment titled “Bringing Voice to The 1920's… The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots . Tell them that you want them to write a brief paragraph that explains exactly what each person is thinking at that moment in the painting. Paragraphs should be written in the first person voice and address two things: life in the south before migration and life in the north now that they have migrated. Paragraphs should also take into account the actions, activities, posture and expressions of the person in the painting. Students should try to incorporate as many of the vocabulary words as possible into the paragraphs. Explain that these paragraphs will be read aloud in a dramatic reading to give life to the painting.
10. After each group has finished writing their paragraphs, select one member of the group to read the paragraph. As each group reads, spotlight the person in the painting. This should give dramatic voice to the painting and reinforce the concept of civic duty and civic pride in voting.
11. Distribute or display the assignment titled “Civic Service and Civil Rights… A Panel Project.” Explain to students that Jacob Lawrence's painting The 1920's… The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots is a unique look at both Civic Service and Civil Rights. Civic Service is any voluntary effort that citizens do to participate in government or the political process, such as voting. A Civil Right is a guarantee that is supposed to be protected by the government, such as the right to vote. Ask students to brainstorm as many Civic Services or Civil Rights as they can think of. Record these on the white board or overhead.
12. When you finish with the list of Civic Services and Civil Rights, remind the students that Lawrence was inspired to do his piece by a piece that he had done 34 years earlier titled “Migration of the Negro.” “Migration of the Negro” was part of a series of panels that told a story about Civil Rights for African Americans. Explain to students that their assignment is to create their own painting that will be part of a class series of panels that tell a story about Civic Issues. Their painting can be about the obligations of civic-mindedness, including voting, volunteering, performing public service, serving in the military or any of the other ideas listed on the “Civic Service Civil Rights” Chart. Their piece can also be about any Civil Rights issue listed on the chart. Hand out the assignment and give students an appropriate amount of time to complete it.
13. When students are finished with their pieces, display them together as part of a paneled series. This final activity can be assigned as homework or completed in class. It can also be extended when the class turns their pieces in as a group decision about the order of the panels to best tell the story or Civic Service and Civil Rights.
TOOL: Art Analysis Questions
1. How would you describe the people in this scene?
2. In general, what are most of the people doing?
3. What item is the central focus of this piece of art?
4. How has the artist drawn your eyes toward this item?
5. What item and activity is the most unusual and difficult to understand it this piece of art?
6. How many basic colors does the artist use is this piece of art?
7. Why do you think the artist chose these colors?
8. What year do you think it is in this painting and why?
9. If you had to describe the sounds taking place in this scene, what words would you use?
10. Overall, what image or impression does this piece of art give you?
TOOL: Key Terms to Understanding Voting and Civil Rights
15th Amendment - Section. 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.*
Jim Crowism - Discriminating against and segregating Black people, especially as practiced in the American South from 1860's to 1960's. #
Disfranchise - To deprive of a privilege or a right of citizenship, especially the right to vote. #
Plessy v. Ferguson - (1896) landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision… approving [legal] racial segregation in public facilities; ruling that states could prohibit the use of public facilities by African Americans. Overturned by Brown v. Board of Ed. (1954). *
Literacy test - used by ruling class to prohibit the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and other groups that it wished to see disenfranchised, from voting. It was prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1965. *
Poll tax - A tax levied on people… often as a requirement for voting. *
Grandfather clause - allowed Southern whites to vote by waiving literacy requirements and poll taxes if a potential voter's grandfather had been a qualified voter, a virtual impossibility for blacks of that era. *
Great Migration of WWI - mass movement of African Americans from the southern U.S. to industrial centers of the North; World War I put a halt to the flow of European immigrants to the emerging industrial centers, causing shortages of workers in the factories *
Harlem Renaissance - cultural movement in 1920s America during which black art, literature, and music experienced renewal and growth, originating in New York City 's Harlem district. #
* Wikipedia.com Online Encyclopedia
# American Heritage Dictionary
Bringing Voice to “The 1920's… The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots”
1. With your partner, select one of the characters from the painting The 1920's… The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots.
2. Write a brief paragraph that explains exactly what your assigned person is thinking at that moment in the painting.
3. Paragraphs should be written in the first person voice and address two things: life in the south before migration and life in the north now that they have migrated.
4. Paragraphs should also take into account the actions, activities, posture and expressions of the person in the painting.
5. Try to incorporate as many of the “Key Terms to Understanding Voting and Civil Rights” as possible into the paragraphs.
6. Paragraphs will be read aloud in a dramatic reading to give voice to the painting.
Civic Service and Civil Rights… a Panel Project
Using this list, you will create your own panel artwork for a larger class piece on Civic Service and Civil Rights.
1. Select one of the Civic Service or Civil Rights Themes from the list or feel free to use one not on the list.
2. In the spirit of Jacob Lawrence, try to tell a story with your panel, using characters, simple colors and basic shapes.
About Jacob Lawrence (1917 – 2000)
Jacob Lawrence, one of the first African-American artists to be recognized by the American art world, was born in 1917 in Atlantic City. He called himself “a child of the Great Migration,” as his parents had come North to find a better life as did thousands of other African-American families. At seven, his father abandoned the family, leaving his mother to support Jacob and his two siblings by cleaning houses. In order to find more work, Lawrence’s mother left the children and moved to Harlem. Three years later she was able to move her children to Harlem. Although nearing the end of its Renaissance, Harlem still boasted a population of almost 35,000 in its five square miles. Lawrence was only thirteen and found the area quite stimulating.
Lawrence struggled in school and wondered why he never learned about African-American leaders, only white leaders like George Washington. Fearful that Lawrence might be drawn to street gangs, his mother enrolled him in an after school program at the Utopia Children’s House. Here he met the African-American painter Charles Alston, who recognized Lawrence’s talent and encouraged him. After two years of high school, Lawrence dropped out to support the family by delivering newspapers and laundry. At nineteen he was accepted into the Civilian Conservation Corps. Afterwards he returned to New York but found again only odd jobs. He began attending more art classes, this time under the sculptor Augusta Savage. When Lawrence turned twenty-one, Savage took him in hand and enrolled him in a depression-era, government program, which supported artists. He earned $25.00 a week, a comfortable living at that time. He later stated, “If Augusta Savage hadn’t insisted on getting me on the project, I would never have become an artist. It was a real turning point for me.”
During these years Lawrence regularly attended a discussion group, which focused on African and African-American history held at the local public library. When he discovered the life story of Toussaint L’Ouverture, a leader of 18th century Haiti, who overthrew the slave system, Lawrence decided to create a painting. He found, however, that one painting wasn’t enough to tell L’Ouverture’s story, so he painted a series of forty-one panels. Thus began his practice of not using titles for each work. Instead he numbered the panels in a series and composed simple sentences to describe the action. He created a series about Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.
Lawrence gained national attention with his next series, Migration of the Negro, with 60 small paintings. He gathered information for the series from his family members, his own childhood experiences, and exhaustive research. He came to the attention of Edith Halpert, one of the world’s best-known art gallery owners at the time, who exhibited the series. New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. purchased the entire set and divided them between the two museums. He was only twenty-three at the time. At thirty, Time magazine proclaimed him the nations’ number one black artist. He continued to paint, honoring African-American social history and culture. Many of his stories, however, express experiences, which are universally shared by all peoples, not just African-Americans. His last great series had the theme of building, about, which Lawrence stated in an interview, “Some of my paintings show man’s struggle, but building shows the beauty of people working together.”
In 1971 Lawrence became a full-time professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he taught twelve years. He and his wife made their home in Seattle until his death in 2000 at the age of 82.
During the post World War I period millions of black people left southern communities in the United States and migrated to northern cities. This migration reached its peak during the 1920’s. Among the many advantages the migrants found in the north was the freedom to vote. In my print, migrants are represented exercising that freedom.
This subject was semi-autobiographical for Lawrence, who counted himself among these migrants, as his parents had come north in the great migration. During his early years in Harlem, Lawrence witnessed the arrival of many migrants:
I didn’t know the term ‘migrant,’ but I would remember people used to tell us when a new family would arrive. People in the neighborhood would collect clothes for these newcomers and pick out coals that hadn’t completely burned in the furnace to get them started…
In The 1920’s . . . The Migrant Arrive and Cast Their Ballots, the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to the table in the center of the middle distance, where a man dressed in a black suit and hat writes his name in the voter registration book before voting. Behind him an open booth reveals a man in a blue suit and hat pulling the levers of the voting machine. Two lines of voters, one from the back of the room on the left and one from the lower left, converge into one line that leads to the registration table. Other people sit and quietly observe the scene. All ages are represented from the elderly with their canes to the new mother and her infant. The print is composed of large flat areas of color; it almost looks like it could be a collage of colored papers. The colors are limited to red, blue and a mustard yellow plus black, white, and a neutral brown. The bright red shapes lead the eye directly to the registration table, as do the lines of voters and the lines of the plank flooring. It is a quiet scene – people wait patiently for their turn to vote- and eloquently expresses the deep respect for the right to vote, not only of the people in the silkscreen but of the artist as well.
About Voting and the Great Migration
Before World War I most African-Americans lived in the South, where they had been guaranteed the right to vote by the 15th Amendment in 1870. However, their votes were manipulated by white landlords, eliminated by vigilantism, and stolen by fraud at the ballot boxes. The 1896 U. S. Supreme Court ruling in the Plessy v. Ferguson case asserted that “separate but equal” accommodations were not a sign of the inferiority of African-Americans, creating a separation of African-Americans and whites in public life. Then in the 1890s the Jim Crow laws practically disenfranchised them altogether. The Jim Crow (a racial slur) laws, enacted by the southern states, imposed voter registration restrictions, such as literacy tests, poll taxes, the grandfather clause and the white primary. Such laws did not violate the 15th Amendment because they applied to all voters regardless of race. These new laws were enforced by acts of intimidation by the Ku Klux Klan and other such groups, including a wave of brutal lynchings.
By the 1920s, however, voting by African-Americans again became a reality, as a result of the mass migration of African-Americans from the South to the industrial cities of the North. World War I stimulated the industrial North and created a demand for manpower. Without European immigration to fill the northern factories there were jobs left vacant in the factories. Economic opportunity, a real chance for a better life, brought a flood of migrants from the South to the North. Between World War I and World War II over two million Black Americans migrated north.
Between World War I and the mid-1930s was also the time of the Harlem Renaissance, which refers to a very fertile period of creativity among African-American writers, painters, musicians and intellectuals, centered in Harlem. A group of talented African-American writers gave voice to the Harlem Renaissance, but it was more than simply a literary movement. It included racial consciousness, “the back to Africa” movement led by Marcus Garvey, racial integration, the explosion of music, particularly jazz, spirituals and blues, painting, and dramatic revues. From 1919 to 1929, as the poet Langston Hughes wrote, Harlem was in vogue. Harlem became the international capital of African-American culture.
Label copy, Crocker Art Museum, 2/05