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Exhibition at LBJ Library and Museum Explores Photography's Role in America's Civil Rights Movement

Contact: Anne Wheeler, LBJ Library and Museum 512-721-0216 or anne.wheeler@nara.gov
What: We Shall Overcome: Photographs from the American Civil Rights Era
When: October 19-December 15, 2002
Where: Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, 2313 Red River Street, Austin, TX
Admission: Free
Public Contact: (512) 916-5137
The Scoop: Lyndon Baines Johnson led the fight in the halls of Congress, but during America's Civil Rights Era, the struggle for equal rights took many forms, including boycotts, sit-ins and marches. Photographers contributed to the movement by relaying the struggle to every corner of the nation. We Shall Overcome: Photographs from the American Civil Rights Era on view at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum from October 19 through December 15, 2002 brings these images together. The exhibition explores the role of several prominent American photographers in documenting one of the most decisive eras in this nation's history. The 80 black-and-white photographs in the exhibition focus on key events and personalities of the Civil Rights Era (1954-1968). We Shall Overcome: Photographs from the American Civil Rights Era was developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and curated by Robert Phelan, an art historian, museum curator and former director of CREED Photos (a database project for civil rights). Works in We Shall Overcome are by some of America's most thoughtful and gifted photographers, including former LIFE magazine photographers Gordon Parks and Charles Moore; Magnum photographers Bob Adelman and Leonard Freed: then-staff photographer for the Nation of Islam, Robert Sengstacke; and Black Star photographers Matt Heron and Bob Fitch. The striking photographs in the exhibition are juxtaposed with the words of James Baldwin, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other movement participants. These quotations provide viewers with an opportunity to examine the Civil Rights Movement through the experiences of those directly involved in the struggle.

Photographers in We Shall Overcome captured various aspects of the Civil Rights Movement. Leonard Freed's images represent his perceptions of racial conflict in America at the time of his return to the United States after several years abroad. Bob Adelman's photographs document voter registration activities in the Deep South. Matt Heron's pictures consider direct action by young in the Movement. Bob Fitch's work chronicles grassroots organizing, primarily in association with the efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Charles Moore's images reveal incidents of extreme violence. Robert Sengstacke's images of the separatist response of the Nation of Islam contrast sharply with his photographs of other civil rights activists. Gordon Parks' works are drawn from an assignment by LIFE magazine during 1963 when Parks was traveling with Malcolm X. The exhibition ends with a selection of photographs of Martin Luther King taken by each of the photographers.

The LBJ Library and Museum will augment this exhibition with a symbolic realist mural by artist Wayne Wildcat depicting the Civil Rights Movement as well as recordings of hymns, spirituals and gospel songs that were a unifying force during the era.

Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service

We Shall Overcome: Photographs from the American Civil Rights Era was developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), and curated by Robert Phelan.

Marchers, Photo by Matt Herron (Click on image to enlarge)

Marchers, Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights, March 21, 1965

Photo by Matt Herron