In the mid-1950s, as Brown v. Board of Education felled the ideology of “separate but equal,” the great African-American artist Jacob Lawrence saw the need for a version of American history that reckoned with its complexities and contradictions yet was shared by all its citizens. The result was his monumental work Struggle . . . from the History of the American People. Lawrence developed the series of thirty panels, each measuring 12 × 16 inches, over the course of two years. He created the panels as history you could hold in your hands and intended to reproduce the images in a book that he never realized. The paintings depict signal moments in the American Revolution and the early decades of the American republic, and feature the words and actions of founding fathers, enslaved people, women, and Native Americans. In the spirit of Lawrence’s project, this illustrated collection features a chorus of thirty singular young adult voices expressing how Lawrence and his Struggle series speaks to them on a personal, emotional level. The young writers come from a broad variety of races and ethnicities, nationalities, religions, genders, sexualities, and abilities. As Lawrence mined American history to reflect upon events he saw happening around him during segregation, these teens use the panels to comment on their experiences in today’s America.
The publication accompanies the nationally touring exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle on view at the Peabody Essex Museum from January 18 to April 26, 2020, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from June 2 to September 7, 2020, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama, from October 17, 2020, to January 10, 2021, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, from February 25 to May 31, 2021, and The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, from June 26 to September 19, 2021.