Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000) was one of the most influential and compelling painters of the twentieth century whose work focused on the struggles of historical and contemporary black culture. At twenty years old, Lawrence began a series of 41 paintings on the life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the revolutionary who in 1791 led the founding of Haiti as the first republic established by former slaves. The Haitian Revolution has been an important symbol of the fight against slavery and the struggle for emancipation and civil rights in the United States and around the world. The Toussaint L’Ouverture series (1937–38) is on loan from the Amistad Research Center, Tulane University and is an important focus for the University of Illinois’ commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King and celebration of the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1862).
Lawrence also produced series on the lives of anti-slavery activists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. He is perhaps best known for the 60 paintings comprising The Migration of the Negro series (1940–41) that tell the story of the migration of African Americans from the rural South to the industrialized urban North during the Great Depression.