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

By Jackson, Bruce | The Journal of Southern History, May 2014 | Go to article overview

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


Jackson, Bruce, The Journal of Southern History


This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement. Edited by Leslie G. Kelen. Essays by Julian Bond, Claybome Carson, and Matt Herron. Text by Charles E. Cobb Jr. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011. Pp. 251. $45.00, ISBN 978-1-61703-171-7.)

History--what we know of the past--is predicated on documents and artifacts, bits and pieces of another time that provide evidence with which to tell a story and to analyze and, perhaps, understand it. Some documents seem more or less value-neutral, "facts" that we can, absent evidence to the contrary, accept at face value. Others are created with a view to influencing how the future interprets a present and so must be read within a contextualizing framework. It may seem that photographs are part of that first group of documents, but they are not.

This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement is a magnificent collection of 151 black-and-white images taken during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The photographers were all people who took part in the movement, not simply people who documented an event and left. The photographs did not come about by happenstance: the organizers of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were aware from the beginning that the world would not pay attention to what they were doing unless there were pictures to accompany the stories they told. Photography was a strategic part of their mission.

The images in this book range from people living regular lives to people being brutalized by policemen on public roads. …

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