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In the Classroom > Picturing America Lessons

The Great Migration: A Look at A Raisin in the Sun and the artwork of Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden

Lesson created by: Kristen M. Biancuzzo

Grade Level: 9


17-A Jacob Lawrence, The Migration of the Negro Panel no. 57, 1940–1941

The Migration of the Negro Panel no. 57

Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000), The Migration of the Negro Panel no. 57, 1940–1941. Casein tempera on hardboard, 18 x 12 in. (45.72 x 30.48 cm.). Acquired 1942. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Art © 2008 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.9

17-B Romare Bearden, The Dove, 1964

The Dove

Romare Bearden (1914–1988) © VAGA NY. The Dove. 1964. Cut-and-pasted photo reproductions and papers, gouache, pencil and colored pencil on cardboard, 13 3/8 x 18 3/4 in. Blanchette Rockefeller Fund (377.1971) Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY © Estate of Romare Bearden Trusts.


  • Students will be able to identify specific elements of the two paintings, including images seen, colors, materials used, use of blank space, and setup of picture (distance, perspective, etc.)
  • Students will understand the impact of The Great Migration through an examination of literature and artwork.
  • Students will understand the difficulties faced by the characters of the play following its time frame and how that concept was also connected with the author.
  • Students will utilize visual images, spoken word and history to make connections between literature and historical events.

Focusing Statements:

Today we will be reading the play, A Raisin in the Sun, which is about a family trying to move out of their present neighborhood and into a new one. This family has many obstacles to face including race and poverty. We are going to start by looking at Jacob Lawrence's picture book "The Great Migration" to get a sense of some of the issues the Younger family will be facing and then we will examine one of the paintings in particular to search for clues about the type of people we are reading about. As we come to the conclusion of the play we will then consider some of the issues the family will continue to face after the play ends. We will view a painting by another artist, Romare Bearden, to explore the messages and content of his painting to see the connections with the play itself.

Who were the people involved in the Great Migration?

How were these people affected in terms of work, family, home life?

At the conclusion of the play, what do you think life will be like for the Younger family based on your own knowledge and context clues?

Examining Expressive Content

  • What are things you notice about the painting?
  • What is the subject matter?
  • As in literature, an artist chooses the "elements" of their artwork for a variety of reasons in order to set a particular mood or tone. What are some elements the artist is using such as color, line or scale? How do these elements set a mood or tone for the piece? How do the artist's choices in these areas alter our understanding of the picture? For instance, if Lawrence had chosen to paint the "Migrant Woman" in different clothing or patterns, would that alter our perceptions of the meaning?
  • How does this painting fit with the picture book, and Jacob Lawrence's "Great Migration Series"?
  • How does it connect with the play?
  • What elements do you see in the picture that might indicate historical references?

Teaching Plan

  1. Students will read Jacob Lawrence's "The Great Migration" as a whole class as an activating exercise. Part of the discussion will focus on the layout and setup of the pictures themselves and part of the discussion will focus on the historical content.
  2. Following this discussion students will then choose a research focus area from one of the following topics: The Great Migration, Living Conditions in New York, Chicago, or Detroit during the 1950s, Employment Opportunities for African Americans in the 1950s, Living Conditions in the South during the 1950s, Political Landscape of the 1950s, Opportunities for African American Women in the North and the South in the 1950s, African American Cultural Heritage, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden.
  3. Students will prepare a mini-research project that will provide a brief background for their topic and will serve as a starting point for the play.
  4. Students will also choose another painting by Jacob Lawrence or Romare Bearden that appeals to them for discussion after reading the play.
  5. Prior to reading the play we will look closely at the paintings from the Picturing America collection along with the paintings chosen by the students. They will hang in a collage format on the wall throughout the unit so that we may return to them while reading the play.
  6. Once we begin reading the play we will continue to look for clues in the pictures to help us both understand the play and to expand on our knowledge from our mini-research projects.

Putting It All Together

At the conclusion of the play we will return to our research materials and our chosen paintings to see how we view the paintings now. What new elements or items do we see? How does the placement of objects within the painting plus marginal space "read" differently? What might the colors signify?

Students will write a reflective essay exploring their final comments on what they learned in the lesson.

At the conclusion of the lesson the goal is for students to be able to answer the following question: What will happen to the Younger family after the play ends?



Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts & Literacy

  • Determine a theme or central idea of a text (picture) and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it, and manipulate time create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.
  • Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment.

Common Core Standards

English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Literature » Grade 9-10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7 Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" and Breughel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).

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