Rousing a Sleeping Nation: Images of Assassination and Murder

Visual representations of racial murder helped convince a skeptical nation of the seriousness of the problem it faced. The use of images of atrocities against black Americans was not new to the battle against racism. The strategy dates back at least as far as the early twentieth century, with W. E. B. Du Bois’s astute and compelling publication of lynching photographs in The Crisis, and reaches its climax with Mamie Till Bradley’s courageous effort to jolt Americans out of their state of denial. Throughout the period of the civil rights movement, such imagery, intentionally or otherwise, continually reminded Americans of the tragedy and deadliness of racial hatred. It also helped alter public opinion and spurred political activism.

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Missing: Call FBI, June 29, 1964
Missing: Call FBI, June 29, 1964
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Missing: Call FBI, June 29, 1964
Offset lithograph on paper
15 11/16 x 10 7/16 in.
International Center of Photography, Anonymous Gift, 2005, 10.2005
This poster, issued by the FBI, reports the disappearance of three activists who had traveled to Philadelphia, Mississippi, in the summer of 1964 to investigate the burning of a black church. Their bodies were later found, murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen.
[Mississippi: The Lynching of Bert Moore and Dooley Morton, 1935], c. 1965
[Mississippi: The Lynching of Bert Moore and Dooley Morton, 1935], c. 1965
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
Otis Noel Pruitt (photographer)
[Mississippi: The Lynching of Bert Moore and Dooley Morton, 1935], c. 1965
Offset lithograph on paper
16 1/4 x 10 13/16 in
International Center of Photography, Museum Purchase, 991.2000
Life, July 28, 1967
Life, July 28, 1967
Bud Lee (photographer)
Life, July 28, 1967
13 11/16 x 10 9/16 in.
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005.18
This agonizing magazine cover shows the nearly lifeless body of twelve-year-old Joe Bass, Jr., wounded by stray police gunfire during a riot in Newark in 1967.
I Am a Man, 1968
I Am a Man, 1968 Sanitation Workers Assembling for a Solidarity March, Memphis, March 28, 1968
Emerson Graphics
I Am a Man, 1968
Offset lithograph on paper
27 15/16 x 21 7/8 in.
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005.160

Ernest C. Withers
I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Assemble Outside Clayborn Temple, Memphis, TN, 1968
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 14 3/4 in.
© Ernest C. Withers. Courtesy Panopticon Gallery, Boston, MA

This stark poster was published shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It stands as a tribute to the slain leader, a poignant reminder of the continued urgency of the struggle he died for. The design paid homage to the placards carried by black sanitation workers in the strike that brought Dr. King to Memphis on the day of his murder in April 1968, an event immortalized in a now iconic photograph by Ernest C. Withers.
Sanitation Workers Assembling for a Solidarity March, Memphis, March 28, 1968
Sanitation Workers Assembling for a Solidarity March, Memphis, March 28, 1968
Ernest C. Withers
I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Assemble Outside Clayborn Temple, Memphis, TN, 1968
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 14 3/4 in.
© Ernest C. Withers. Courtesy Panopticon Gallery, Boston, MA
Fan, Evans Memorial Chapel, Saginaw, Michigan, c. 1968
Fan, Evans Memorial Chapel, Saginaw, Michigan, c. 1968
Fan, Evans Memorial Chapel, Saginaw, Michigan, c. 1968
Offset lithograph on paper
12 x 7 1/2 in.
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005.8