Work of Art: Forward
Jacob Lawrence
Tempera on Masonite panel
23 7/8 x 35 15/16 in. (60.6 x 91.3 cm)
Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina
© 2012 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Forward dramatizes the life of Harriet Tubman (1820?-1913), "the Moses of her people." Born into slavery, Tubman escaped in 1849 and then repeatedly returned to the South to rescue other slaves. Jacob Lawrence relates an incident in her story with masterful economy, eliminating all but the essentials. In this painting Tubman shepherds a small group of fugitives north to freedom. By the dark of a new moon, six barefoot figures steal warily across a bare landscape. Clutching a revolver, Tubman commands center stage, her indomitable spirit expressed in the forward momentum of her body and the determined thrust of her arm that impels her recoiling comrade onward. Others follow, their faces and gestures expressing both fear and resolution. In the context of the ongoing Civil Rights struggles of the late 1960s, Lawrence portrays the historical Tubman as a timeless exemplar of moral courage and determination.

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