exhibitions
For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights
For All the World to See is the first comprehensive museum exhibition to explore the historic role played by visual images in shaping, influencing, and transforming the fight for civil rights in the United States.

Organizing Institutions: Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.

 

Curator: Maurice Berger, Research Professor, Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, UMBC

In September 1955, shortly after Emmett Till was murdered by white supremacists in Money, Mississippi, his grieving mother, Mamie Till Bradley, distributed to newspapers and magazines a gruesome black-and-white photograph of his mutilated corpse. Asked why she would do this, Mrs. Bradley explained that by witnessing, with their own eyes, the brutality of segregation and racism, Americans would be more likely to support the cause of racial justice and equality. “Let the world see what I’ve seen,” was her reply. The publication of the photograph transformed the modern civil rights movement, inspiring a new generation of activists to join the cause.

Despite this extraordinary episode, visual culture is rarely included in the history of the modern civil rights movement. For All the World to See is the first comprehensive museum exhibition to explore the historical role played by visual images in shaping, influencing, and transforming the fight for civil rights in the United States. The exhibition is comprised of over 250 objects, including posters, photographs, graphic art, magazines, newspapers, books, pamphlets, political buttons, comic books, toys, postcards, and clips from film, newsreels, and television. Maurice Berger, cultural historian and Research Professor, Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, University of Maryland, Baltimore County is the curator of the exhibition.

For All the World to See looks at images in a range of cultural outlets and forms, tracking the ways they represented race in order to alter beliefs and attitudes. The exhibition examines the extent to which the rise of the modern civil rights movement paralleled the birth of television and the popularity of picture magazines and other forms of visual mass media. Images of the civil rights era were ever-present and diverse: the startling footage of southern white aggression and black suffering that appeared night after night on television news programs; the photographs of black achievers and martyrs in Negro periodicals, which roused pride or activism in the African-American community; the humble snapshot, no less powerful in its ability to edify and motivate. In each case, the war against racism and segregation was waged—by civil rights leaders, activists, and ordinary people alike—not with bricks or flesh or words but with pictures. By including a compendium of iconic objects, motion pictures, and intimate portraits of black life, For All the World to See attempts to reach museum visitors on a deeply personal and moving level as it offers important insights into the way visual images forever changed the cultural and social landscape of the United States.

For All the World to See is co-organized by the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, UMBC and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C. A comprehensive, richly illustrated companion book written by Maurice Berger with a foreword by the celebrated essayist, novelist, and librettist Thulani Davis was published by Yale University Press in May 2010. A comprehensive website launched in May 2010 at www.foralltheworldtosee.org, and will include an online version of the exhibition, online film festival, and educational materials.

The exhibition traveled to these venues: International Center of Photography in New York (21 May to 12 September 2010); National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution in the galleries dedicated for use by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (June 9, to Nov. 28, 2011); and the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN. It will appear at the organizing institution, Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture, UMBC from November 15, 2012 to March 10, 2013, and will continue on, traveling to the Addison Gallery of American Art in 2013.

Funding for the exhibition has come from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Trellis Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, St. Paul Travelers Corporation, the Texas Foundation, and the Maryland State Arts Council. Additional support has come from CBS News Archives, Ed Sullivan/SOFA Entertainment, Sullmark Corporation, and Sony Pictures Entertainment.

For All the World to See was designated a “We the People” project by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The goal of the “We the People” initiative is to “encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture through the support of projects that explore significant events and themes in our nation’s history and culture and that advance knowledge of the principles that define America.”

Photos on left: (details) Sanitation Workers Assemble in Front of Clayborn Temple for a Solidarity March, Memphis, TN, March 28, 1968, Gelatin silver print, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Museum Purchase, (c) Ernest C. Withers., Courtesy Panopticon Gallery, Boston, MA 
Photo on right: I AM A MAN, 1968, offset lithography on paper, Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, MD, (c) Emerson Graphics

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