DOCUMENTING CIVIL RIGHTS

The leaders of the civil rights movement believed in photography’s ability to advance their objectives. A number of organizations—including the Congress of Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Council of Churches, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—cultivated teams of professional “movement photographers” to create images that celebrated black life and achievement, offered evidence of the problem of racism and segregation, or acted as instruments of motivation or persuasion. Scores of other photographers—whether independent or on assignment for newspapers or magazines—documented the movement.

This section looks at photographs as historical records, how they chronicled the ongoing events of the modern civil rights movement. These images are, in turn, evocative, moving, startling, and celebratory—testaments to the vitality, courage, and perseverance of those who fought for racial justice and equality.

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Union Justice Now, 1968
Union Justice Now, 1968
Memphis Sanitation Workers Union (publisher)
Union Justice Now, 1968
Offset lithograph on paper
21 7/16 x 14 in.
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, Anonymous Gift, 2006, 2005.221

Benedict J. Fernandez
Memphis, Tennessee, April 1968
Gelatin silver print
8 3/16 x 12 3/8 in.
International Center of Photography, Gift of Benedict J. Fernandez, 1990, 68.1990
© Benedict J. Fernandez
On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., traveled to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers. That evening, he delivered his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech to a packed room of supporters. The next day, he was assassinated.
Memphis, Tennessee, April 1968
Memphis, Tennessee, April 1968
Benedict J. Fernandez
Memphis, Tennessee, April 1968
Gelatin silver print
8 3/16 x 12 3/8 in.
International Center of Photography, Gift of Benedict J. Fernandez, 1990, 68.1990
© Benedict J. Fernandez
Savior’s Day Gathering, Chicago, 1966
Savior’s Day Gathering, Chicago, 1966
Robert Sengstacke
Savior’s Day Gathering, Chicago, 1966 © 1989 Robert A. Sengstacke
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, Gift of the Artist, 2008.007
Sit-in, Raleigh, North Carolina, February 10, 1960
Sit-in, Raleigh, North Carolina, February 10, 1960
Sit-in, Raleigh, North Carolina, February 10, 1960
Gelatin silver print
6 5/8 x 10 in.
Courtesy Bettmann/CORBIS