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Struggle for Justice: Four Decades of Civil Rights Photography

The Briscoe Center proudly presents Struggle for Justice: Four Decades of Civil Rights Photography, which features nearly 60 photographs taken between the 1930s and 1970s that show the flashpoints of the civil rights movement.

“Drawn from the center’s unrivaled photojournalism collections, the images on display are compelling, beautiful, disturbing, and encouraging—just like the history they document,” says Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “Like those who marched, protested, and organized for civil rights, photojournalists put themselves in great danger. Struggle for Justice unashamedly celebrates their legacy.”  Spider Martin

The photographs on display provide compelling visual evidence of the struggles, flashpoints, and achievements of the civil rights movement—from Jim Crow to Black Power. The exhibit showcases images by Spider Martin (right), Flip Schulke, Charles Moore (photos below), R. C. Hickman, and others—emphasizing the perspective of the photographers. It focuses on five areas: signs of segregation, organizations and leaders of the civil rights movement, the risks and threat of violence that civil rights activists faced from their fellow Americans, marches and protests, and a section that documents the contemporary achievements of the civil rights movement. 

“The exhibit is designed to create multiple entry points for viewing the photographs and learning about the civil rights movement,” said Sarah Sonner, assistant director for exhibits curation at the Briscoe Center. “We also constructed a v-shaped wall that reconfigures the space and chose vibrant color accents inspired by Black Panther newspapers.”

Racial segregation dominated American culture for the first half of the twentieth century. Many states, especially those in the South, used segregation to systematically discriminate against black Americans in all areas of public life including the ballot box, classroom, and dining hall. “Separate but equal” was inherently false, often to a farcical degree. The civil rights movement gained momentum rapidly after World War II. Regardless of the various differences between civil rights leaders and organizations, they shared a desire to repeal Jim Crow laws and were often met with violence and intimidation by local officials and mobs. 

Photojournalists often put themselves in danger to document the violent responses to civil rights activism, which included police brutality and the intimidating, unsavory tone of counter protests. Some photojournalists, like Schulke, who became Martin Luther King’s personal photographer, embedded themselves in the struggle. For others like Hickman, documenting the movement was simply part of their work covering current local events. Either way, the publication of their pictures helped to galvanize public support for the civil rights movement and its legislative goals.

“At first glance, these images simply present a striking visual record of the civil rights movement—its trials and successes,” added Carleton. “And yet, they remain so salient and resonant. They touch upon issues very much still with us—they are able to conjure within us questions about the America we live in today, as well as the one we’ve inherited.”

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