Let My People Go, ca. 1935-39. Aaron Douglas. Oil on Masonite. Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2015. © 2019 Heirs of Aaron Douglas / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.
Kansas-born Aaron Douglas was the leading visual artist of the Harlem Renaissance, the great flowering of the arts in 1920s and 1930s in New York’s predominately African American neighborhood. Rendered in Douglas’s flat, silhouetted style and with lavender and yellow-gold hues, this work depicts the Old Testament story about God’s order to Moses to lead the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt. Ministers, abolitionists, and politicians from the nineteenth-century through the Civil Rights era have related this story to the oppression of African Americans. Light symbolizing God’s command radiates down and envelops the kneeling figure of Moses. Douglas derived this composition from a design he created in 1927 for God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, a collaboration with author and activist James Weldon Johnson.