Jacob Lawrence won a scholarship in 1937 that afforded him the opportunity to attend the American Artist School in New York. In 1941, Lawrence married artist Gwendolyn Knight who helped him compose captions for his series and was said to be one of his toughest critics. In this same year, the work that would become his most famous series depicting African American migration was completed. He was only 24 years old at the time and after his work was exhibited at Edith Halpert's Downtown Gallery, his fame grew locally as he was the first African American to have his work exhibited at that gallery.
During World War II, Lawrence worked as an artist within the Coast Guard. Known as a war artist, he painted nearly 50 works which have all been lost to history. After the war ended, he painted his War Series which were successful and aided his career as a working artist.
In the 1970s Lawrence began teaching at the University of Washington where he worked and taught until 1985. After leaving the active faculty, he continued his affiliation with the university as Professor Emeritus and continued to paint and create art. Lawrence continued to paint until a few short weeks before his death on June 9th, 2000.