In the 1940s, the Harlem Hospital was one of the few facilities in New York City that admitted black patients; consequently, ailing blacks waited significantly longer to get medical treatment than did their white counterparts. In this Harlem street scene, ambulance attendants lift a stretcher carrying an ailing figure covered in white sheets. A paramedic stands by, monitoring the victim. Surrounding this trio is a densely packed crowd of spectators, whose downcast eyes and sad expressions suggest that they are not anonymous onlookers but rather a close-knit community of neighbors, friends, and family.
Ambulance Call exemplifies Lawrence’s melding of traditional narrative subjects and the visual language of modernism. The schematically rendered figures wear bright, monochromatic clothing. The artist distributed passages of red, blue, yellow, green, and black throughout the picture in a lively, rhythmic pattern.