Jacob Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1917, to parents who migrated from the American South to the North during World War I. He was the first African American artist to be represented by a major New York gallery (the Downtown Gallery) and the first to receive sustained mainstream recognition in the United States. He exhibited regularly in New York throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s, when many African American artists were denied professional consideration. He has been the subject of numerous major retrospective exhibitions and his work is represented in hundreds of museum collections. A devoted teacher most of his life, Lawrence accepted a tenured position at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1971 and retired as a professor emeritus in 1986. Lawrence was actively painting until several weeks before his death, on June 9, 2000.