Aaron Douglas' “Let My People Go”


In 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. Slowly but surely, African Americans could finally contribute to society and participate in jobs and practices they could not before. Even though the 13th Amendment banned slavery, it certainly did not solve all problems. W.E.B Du Bois is an infamous example of an African American who was able to leave a legacy on everybody, specifically Graphic Designers, only 37 years after the end of slavery. However, he demonstrates through his data visuals that not everything was swell and dandy, and most African Americans still faced issues such as illiteracy, job discrimination, and lack of social change. 

In this post, we look at a painting by Aaron Douglas, an African American painter and graphic artist. Douglas was instrumental in the Harlem Renaissance, which occurred during the 1920s and 1930s. This painting, called “Let My People Go,” is the artist’s interpretation of the biblical Moses’s plea to the Pharaoh to free his people. This painting, created ca. 1935-1939, was Douglas’s notion of modernism — portraying the social plight that African Americans were still under at this time(Meier). 

This painting and Douglas’s other works are important to graphic design history as he uses angular and geometric shapes with unanticipated colors and the stylistic look of layering. These are all popular aspects of modern graphic design we all use today. 



Aaron Douglas - paintings, Art & Harlem Renaissance. Biography.com. (n.d.). https://www.biography.com/artists/aaron-douglas

American, A. D. (n.d.). Aaron Douglas: Let my people go. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/676458#:~:text=The%20seventh%20panel%20in%20the,politicians%20adopted%20to%20allegorize%20the

Forrest, J. (2023, January 11). Data journalism in the study of W.E.B. Du Bois’s “The negro problem” (part 2), Nightingale. Nightingale. https://nightingaledvs.com/data-journalism-in-the-study-of-w-e-b-du-boiss-the-negro-problem-part-2/

Meier, A. (2016, January 5). A rare encounter with an Aaron Douglas painting that references slavery’s past. Hyperallergic. https://hyperallergic.com/265634/a-rare-encounter-with-an-aaron-douglas-painting-that-references-slaverys-past/

Aaron Douglas' "Let My People Go"
Aaron Douglas' "Let My People Go"