Blindness and Insight: The Civil Rights Movement in Photographs and Text

By Anderson, David A. | Afterimage, September-October 1998 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Blindness and Insight: The Civil Rights Movement in Photographs and Text

Anderson, David A., Afterimage


I was already an adult at the advent of the Civil Rights Movement. Thus a certain sense of mid-twentieth-century history guides my analysis of how this combined book and exhibition project interprets the social issues of that era. The exhibition was organized by Steven Kasher, photographer, writer and gallery owner, and accompanied by a book, The Civil Rights Movement.' A Photographic History, 1954-1968, also authored by Kasher.

Although the exhibition, "Appeal to this Age: Photography of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968" has been traveling nationally for the past four years, this reviewer only saw the exhibition at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. Seventy-four black and white photographs of the "second American revolution"(1) encased in simple black frames, were mounted on freestanding wall panels. Quotations in large letters were conspicuously printed at the top of each panel. Five of the quotations were attributed to movement participants. Two were statements made by President Lyndon B. Johnson and Alabama Governor George C. Wallace. The prints were exhibited chronologically, and numbered sequentially. Photography, quotation and picture caption were arranged as if to tell a simple narrative. Accentuation in the form of enlarged quotations and five photo murals were strategically dispersed throughout the show. The largest mural, 9x14 feet, served as outer wall to a mini-theater, where the documentary Freedom on My Mind (1994)(2) showed almost continuously on one of three video monitors. The exhibition space included an Internet-linked computer, books about African Americans as photographers and as subjects, and craft activities designed for children.

Most of the photographs that comprised the exhibition and book stand as authentic documents of the Civil Rights Movement. Originally published in newspapers and as magazine photo-essays, they are evidence of the viciousness with which racists tried to contain the descendants of kidnapped people in a place that they - racists - had designated for them. Both the exhibition and the book presented familiar and new images to this viewer. The familiar included photographs published almost weekly in 1960s-era periodicals such as Life. Some selections transcended the original news stories they were part of. As Kasher put it, "The great photographs of the civil rights movement were crafted with urgent passion - for their own time and for the future."(3) The primary focus of this article is the exhibition panels: the problematic grouping of photographs and text.

PANEL ONE: Thar he.

Panel One contained four photographs, collected under the quotation, "Thar he." The first photograph, Linda Brown and Her Sister Walking to School, Topeka, Kansas, March 1953, by Carl Iwasaki, presents two children, lunch bags in hand, walking between a line of railroad freight cars and parallel sets of rails stretching to infinity. Linda Brown became a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit brought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Plaintiffs from five geographical regions were named in suits that sought relief for African American children relegated by law to inferior facilities, services and other indignities not imposed upon white children.

Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court reviewed the cases, consolidated under the title Brown v Board of Education, Topeka. In 1954, the Court issued a landmark decision that struck down statutes underpinning segregation in public schools. In its ruling, the justices overturned the infamous Plessy v Ferguson decision rendered by the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court.

It is not surprising that the topic of public school desegregation would open the exhibition. However, in the show there is no thematic connection between Linda Brown and the other three photographs, detailed later, or to the panel quotation, "Thar he." The words are attributed to Moses Wright, a Mississippi farmer who had no direct connection to the lawsuits or to Brown.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Blindness and Insight: The Civil Rights Movement in Photographs and Text


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?