Photographers of the African-American Civil Rights Movement

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Warren K. Leffler's photograph of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the National Mall

Beginning with the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, photography and photographers played an important role in advancing the African-American Civil Rights Movement by documenting the public and private acts of racial discrimination against African Americans and the nonviolent response of the movement. This article focuses on these photographers and the role that they played in the movement between 1954 and 1968, particularly in the South.

Notable photographers and the roles they played[edit]

  • Bruce Davidson (1933) chronicled the events and effects of Civil Rights Movement, in both the North and the South, from 1961 to 1965. In support of his project, Davidson received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1962 and his finished project was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Upon the completion of his documentation of the Civil Rights Movement, Davidson received the first ever photography grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • Bob Fitch was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) photographer in 1965 and 1966. His images includes school integration, voter registration actions, and candidate campaigns in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia; the Mississippi James Meredith March Against Fear; and intimate photos of the King family during Dr. King's funeral. His pictures appeared nationally in Afro-American publications including Johnson Publishing's JET and EBONY. Fitch's photos appeared in the 1997 Smithsonian Exhibit "We Shall Overcome", and his portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Atlanta, Georgia, office with a print of Mohandas Gandhi on the wall, is the model for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial monument in Washington D.C.[1]
  • Jack T. Franklin (1922-2009) [2]
  • Warren K. Leffler was a photographer for U.S. News & World Report during the civil rights years. Although based primarily in Washington, D.C., Leffler also traveled to the South to cover many of the main events for the magazine.
  • James H. Karales (1930-2002), a photographer for Look magazine from 1960 to 1971, covered the Civil Rights Movement throughout its duration and took many memorable photographs including photos of SNCC's formation, of Dr. King and his associates, and, during his full coverage of the event, the iconic photograph of the Selma to Montgomery march showing people proudly marching along the highway under a cloudy turbulent sky.[3] In 2013 a book of his photographs, CONTROVERSY AND HOPE:The Civil Rights Movement Photographs of James Karales, was published by the University of South Carolina Press.
  • Danny Lyon (1942) published his first photographs working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. His pictures appeared in The Movement, a documentary book about the Southern Civil Rights Movement, as well as Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, his own memoir of his years working for SNCC.
  • James "Spider" Martin (1939–2003) took photographs which documented the March, 1965 beating of many of the marchers during the first Selma to Montgomery march, known as “Bloody Sunday.” About the effect of photography on the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Spider, we could have marched, we could have protested forever, but if it weren't for guys like you it would have been for nothing. The whole world saw your pictures. That's why the Voting Rights Act was passed." [4]
  • Charles Moore (1931-2010), photographed a 1958 argument between Martin Luther King, Jr. and two policemen. His photographs were distributed nationally by the Associated Press, and published in Life, and he began traveling throughout the South documenting the Civil Rights Movement. Moore's most famous photograph, Birmingham, depicts demonstrators being attacked by firemen wielding high-pressure hoses. U.S. Senator Jacob Javits said that Moore's pictures "helped to spur passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."[5]
  • Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was assigned by Life in 1963 to travel with Malcolm X and document the Civil Rights Movement.[6] He was also involved with the movement on a personal level. In 1947, Gordon Parks documented Dr. Kenneth Clark's infamous Doll Test. It is those pictures, published in Ebony in July 1947, that were used as evidence in the Brown v. Board of Education trial and helped sway the ruling.

Photo books on the Civil Rights Movement[edit]

  • Adelman, Bob (Ed.);& Johnson, Charles (Intro.), MLK: A Celebration in Word and Image, Beacon Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8070-0316-9
  • Cox, Julian; Jacob, Rebekah;& Karales, Monica (Andrew Young, forward), CONTROVERSY AND HOPE: The Civil Rights Photographs of James Karales, The University of South Carolina Press, 2013.
  • Davidson, Bruce, Time of Change: Civil Rights Photographs 1961-1965, Los Angeles: St. Ann's Press, 2002.
  • Faces of Freedom Summer, University of Alabama Press, 2001.
  • Freed, Leonard, Black in White America, New York: Grossman, 1967.
  • Kasher, Steven, The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68, New York: Abbeville, 1996.
  • Lyon, Danny, Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
  • Moore, Charles, Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore, New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1991.
  • Williams, Cecil J., Out of the Box in Dixie: Cecil Williams' Photography of the South Carolina Events That Changed America, 2006, Cecil Williams Photography/Publishing
  • Herron, Matt, "Mississippi Eyes: The story and photography of the Southern Documentary Project", 2014, Talking Fingers Press


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Loke, Margarett (2002-04-05). "James Karales, Photographer of Social Upheaval, Dies at 71". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ "Selma to Montgomery: A March for the Right to Vote". The Spider Martin Civil Rights Collection. Retrieved 2006-01-04. 
  5. ^ "About Charles Moore". Kodak. Retrieved 2006-12-26. 
  6. ^ "We Shall Overcome: Photographs from the American Civil Rights Era". LBJ Library and Museum. Retrieved 3-1-2007.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  7. ^ Fraser, C. Gerald (19 October 1986). "The Vision of Moneta Sleet in Show". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 
  8. ^ "Moneta Sleet, photographer of excellence". African American Registry. Archived from the original on 2006-12-06. Retrieved 2006-12-22. 

External links[edit]