Test your knowledge with a quiz
Lawrence, Ambulance Call
- From the 1920s until the 1940s, Harlem was the epicenter of African American culture. Known as the Harlem Renaissance, this period of cultural richness and collaboration redefined how the African American experience was expressed in art, music, and literature. In this painting, Jacob Lawrence evokes the vibrant sense of community and energy in Harlem, even without depicting the city itself.
- After World War I, during what is known as the Great Migration, millions of African Americans relocated from agrarian regions in the southern states to cities in the North. Hoping to escape the brutal racism and violence of the Jim Crow South, they were attracted by the economic opportunities provided by the growth of industry in the northern states. The range of people included in Lawrence’s painting speaks to the diverse backgrounds that were brought together in neighborhoods such as Harlem.
- African Americans in the North continued to face racism and systemic discrimination. Lawrence’s painting speaks to one of the inequities they suffered: the lack of access to quality healthcare. Harlem Hospital was insufficiently staffed for the size of the local community and although the ambulance attendants and paramedic shown here are black, there were few job opportunities for African Americans in the medical field.
More to think about
Consider how Lawrence communicates—in his painting and his words—the sense of vitality and connection that he observed among people living in Harlem. Do you feel like you belong to a community, either in your school, in your neighborhood, or as part of an organization or group? What specifically makes you feel connected to that community?