Stanzas From a Black Epic

The 60 paintings in Jacob Lawrence's great Migration series present piercing images of the African-American experience

The show of all 60 paintings of Jacob Lawrence's Migration series, at the Phillips Collection in Washington, is an event that no one interested in African-American cultural history -- or, in a wider way, the story of American painting as a whole -- could pass up. The works haven't been shown in two decades, but they constitute the first, and arguably still the best, treatment of black-American historical experience by a black artist. (Romare Bearden's collages are slices of life, but they do not form an explicit historical narrative in the way that Lawrence's paintings do.)

Fifty years have passed since...

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