Exhibit | This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement

Matt Herron, Selma–Montgomery March, Alabama, 1965:  Rev. Martin Luther King leads singing marchers toward Montgomery.

In 1857, Frederick Douglass observed, “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

George Ballis, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 1964: Victoria Gray from Hattiesburg, center, is one of the delegates of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) who demonstrate as President Lyndon Johnson is being nominated.

A century later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. brought these words to life with the Civil Rights Movement. He made A demand and, with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a measure of the demand was met. But it was not met without retaliation, and ultimately Dr. King would pay with his life, a life that the government who had him killed now honors with a Federal holiday.

Herbert Randall, Western College for Women, Oxford, Ohio, 1964: This photo of a demonstration was found amongst the images Herbert Randall took in June 1964.

Fifty years ago, it would be unimaginable to dream of a world like the one in which we live, the one made possible, in many ways, by the Civil Rights Movement. When we look back at documents of the past, we see a multiplicity of stories and experiences. Some work, produced for the mainstream media, was taken by outsiders and reads in the same way the war in Vietnam: us vs. them, depending on which side you are on. But, other work, produced by artists, takes us deep inside, going beyond the headlines, and showing the human side. It is this work that brings us not only knowledge but also understanding. Here there is no us vs. them; it is only we as one, united in harmony.

Maria Varela, near Canton, Mississippi, 1966: A hand-drawn black panther indicates a change of movement symbolism as young men joined the Meredith March in response to the call for Black Power.

In honor of this historic period in American history, the Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, PA, presents “This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement”, now through May 15. The artists selected for the exhibition were activists directly involved in the movement. Featuring the work of Bob Adelman, George Ballis, Bob Fitch, Bob Fletcher, Matt Herron, David Prince, Herbert Randall, Maria Varela, and Tamio Wakayama, “This Light of Ours” includes 150 photographs taken between 1963 and 1967.

Bob Adelman, Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama, 1963: Despite force and violence by police and firemen, protestors hold onto each other and withstand the full fury of a water cannon.

The brilliance and beauty of these photographs is the way in which they destroy the divide and conquer narrative that has kept systemic oppression in place since the founding of this nation. The photographs speak to the underlying humanity of every man, woman, and child, and remind us that we are called upon to stand up to injustice and tyranny. With This Light of Ours”, we come full circle to where we stand now, reminded that the revolution does not end and the struggle continues…

Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, PA, presents “This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement”, now through May 15.
All photos courtesy of the Center for Documentary Expression and Art

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.