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Photographs illustrate chronology of Civil Rights movement

| Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Snite Museum held a special exhibition on Monday afternoon of 17 photographs that capturing some of the touchstone moments of the Civil Rights movement as part of Notre Dame’s “Walk the Walk” Week.

“On view are some of the seminal images that we have come to know as the images that tell the story of the Civil Rights movement,” Gina Costa, director of public relations and marketing for the Snite, said.

Students browse the new exhibition at The Snite Museum, which consists of 17 photographs that illustrate the Civil Rights Movement.Sarah Olson | The Observer
Framed photographs line the wall at the new exhibition at the Snite Museum of Art. The installation consists of 17 photographs that illustrate the Civil Rights Movement.

The photographs follow the chronology of the Civil Rights movement, starting with images of individual protests and small victories, and progressing into large scale demonstrations and the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They convey a range of sentiments, from repression and hatred to strength, brotherhood, perseverance and human dignity.

“You get these epic, sort of monumental images of freedom and hope,” Costa said.

The photographs, most of which were taken by some of the most influential photographers of the time, portray some of the most recognizable moments of the Civil Rights Movement: the first desegregated bus in Montgomery, protesters being sprayed with water cannons and attacked by police dogs in Birmingham, and peaceful crowds at the 1963 March on Washington.

“One of the most moving things about these pictures is the way the protesters are using their bodies — it’s a choice,” Bridget Hoyt, curator of education and academic programs, said. “They are victims, but they are also agents.”

One of the most recognizable photographs shows a pensive Dr. King just after his “I Have a Dream” speech. The image, Hoyt said, looks like it was shot in a photography studio, due to the way the light hits Dr. King’s face.

“It’s so solitary, a moment of peace — you would never know from looking at it that it was taken during the March on Washington,” Hoyt said. “It speaks so much, even without context.”

The timeline of the photographs is especially striking. One photograph depicts the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, in which a solid wall of workers holds signs reading, “I am a man.” It was this protest that brought Dr. King to Memphis in 1968. The photograph was taken on March 28; six days later, Dr. King was assassinated on his balcony, a photograph of which was also on display in the exhibit.

“Looking at this image, you can see how it’s still relevant today,” Hoyt said, gesturing toward a photograph of policemen locking eyes with a protester, who is holding a child, in Memphis. “It raises the same questions: what kind of relationships and communities are we building for our future?”

The final photograph in the exhibit portrays Mrs. King holding her five-year-old daughter during her husband’s funeral. The image won the photographer, Moneta Sleet, Jr., the 1969 Pulitzer Prize.

“We’re a museum — we’re collecting good works of art, but we also have another responsibility to our students,” Hoyt said. “Not just to their education, but to their development as a whole.”

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