The Nakba Series

In an article in The New York Times about Israel’s attempts to expel Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt, Jerusalem Bureau chief Patrick Kingsley just called the 1948 Nakba—the murder and expulsion of Palestinians from lands that became Israel—a “migration.”

Website for Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration [sic] Series, 1940-41, at the Phillips Collection

Which immediately conjures Jacob Lawrence’s 60-panel masterpiece, The Migration Series, the 1940-41 epic that told a tale of “The Great Migration,” “the flight” of Black Americans out of the South “following the outbreak of World War I.”

Lawrence’s original title for his series was The Migration of The Negro. The title changed as language shifted with the political and cultural change. No one today would be confused by this, or by the changing implications of, “The Negro.” Yet the implications and complications of the term “Migration” are still rarely acknowledged.

“To me, migration means movement,” said Lawrence at some later point, according to the Phillips Collection, which acquired half the series. “There was conflict and struggle. But out of the struggle came a kind of power and even beauty. ‘And the migrants kept coming’ [the artist’s caption for the final panel, is a refrain of triumph over adversity. If it rings true for you today, then it must still strike a chord in our American experience.”

Perhaps hearing the 1948 Nakba called a “migration” in the midst of relentless violence on a massive scale, in the pursuit of another nakba, will shock people into recognition. That migration can also mean ethnic cleansing and genocide, and that it rings true today because it’s still endemic in our American experience, and there is not beauty in it.