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Message from Executive Director Don Carleton

April 2014

Former Presdident Bill Clinton and Don Carleton, photo by David Hume Kennerly
Former President Bill Clinton and Don Carleton, photo by David Hume Kennerly

Earlier this month at the LBJ Library’s Civil Rights Summit, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Congressmen John Lewis were touring the library’s exhibits when they stopped to take in one of six photographs on loan from the Briscoe Center’s collections. The photograph had particular meaning for Congressman Lewis: it was a picture of him as a young man being beaten by policemen.

The photograph was taken by another young man named Spider Martin. In 1965 Martin worked for The Birmingham News and was one of the few journalists who covered the first Selma to Montgomery march, a seminal moment in United States history. Martin documented the thuggish brutality of the Alabama police as they descended upon unarmed protesters shortly after the march began. His photographs would go on to galvanize public opinion in support of the civil rights movement.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the Briscoe Center acquired a selection of Martin’s photographs, which are the basis for a new exhibit, The Power of His Camera, currently on display at our Research and Collections Division on campus. During the Civil Rights Summit I had the opportunity to talk to Congressman Lewis about the exhibit. He was pleased to know that Martin’s photos were educating a new generation of students about the struggle for equal rights.

The summit was a busy time for the center. For two days our reading room was used for teacher workshops with participants including former NAACP chairman Julian Bond and Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter Graham Nash visited the Martin exhibit before speaking and performing at the summit. Images from the center’s collections were on display in the LBJ Library’s Cornerstones of Civil Rights exhibit. Finally, I had the chance to give President Bill Clinton a brief but personal update on our project to digitize the center’s biography of his friend Bernard Rapoport.

In short, the summit was a tremendous opportunity for the center to meet new friends, reconnect with others, and expose our collections to a wider audience. But, most importantly, it was a chance to be part of something special and profound—the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The summit reminds us that we look back at the history of civil rights with the benefit of hindsight. The Martin photographs on display at the center are a chilling reminder that those who fight for social justice do so with no guarantee that their efforts will be safe, successful, or even appreciated. I’m proud that the Briscoe Center is home to many collections that preserve the legacy of civil rights and social justice movements in American history. These collections include the James and Lula P. Farmer Papers, the Flip Schulke Photographic archive, the Field Foundation archives, and the Sara Clark Social Justice Collection. For more information visit: www.briscoecenter.org/civilrights.

 

Don Carleton, Ph.D.
Executive Director
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History
 

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