Jacob Lawrence’s artistic achievement is dazzling and prodigious. Consider this: Before the age of 25, and within a span of four years, he created three narrative series of paintings on the lives of notable heroes in black culture (Toussaint L’Overture, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown) and an ambitious artistic rendering of the plight of many blacks in America between the two world wars,
the popular and career-making The Migration of the Negro. Combined these series total more than 160 individual paintings. Lawrence continued to make art, chronicling the experiences of Blacks in America, until he died in June 2000—more than sixty years of creative output, energy, and vision.
In 2005 the Postal Service issued To Form a More Perfect Union, a set of stamps to commemorate the benchmark events of the Civil Rights Movement. Lawrence’s 1948 brush and ink drawing “Dixie Café” was selected to represent the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial segregation and other forms of discrimination.
“Dixie Café” presents familiar elements of Lawrence’s style. Bold graphic lines form a tableau of figures populating a shallow space; a format he used throughout his career. Among the many varied sources he said inspired his work, Lawrence admired and looked at popular comics, such as “Katzenjammer Kids” and “Maggie and Jigs.” Like a comic strip, “Dixie Café” is economical in detail, both in terms of composition and color. It’s remarkable how clearly an episode of racial segregation in conveyed by a simple series of bold lines and strategically placed text. As is so often the case in Lawrence’s work, he relies on a minimum of means to produce maximum impact.
We have one First Day of Issue ceremony program to give away to a lucky winner today. As usual, though, you’ve got to show us what you know. Jacob Lawrence’s “Dixie Café” appears on the 1964 Civil Rights Act stamp. What kinds of discrimination did the law prohibit? Send your answer to uspsstamps at gmail dot com. One person will be chosen at random to receive the ceremony program with the Jacob Lawrence stamp on it. Deadline for entries is Friday, February 3, at 10 a.m. EST. Good luck!