List of photographers of the 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 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]

  • Bob Adelman (1931-2016) volunteered as a photographer for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in the early 1960s and photographed the events and the now well-known people active in the civil rights movement at the time.
  • James H. Barker, documented civil rights movement activity in Selma in the early 1960s.[1]
  • Dan Budnik (1933) persuaded Life to have him create a long-term photo essay documenting the Selma to Montgomery march. His photographs are now in the collection of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.
  • Bruce Davidson (1933) chronicled the events and effects of the 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.
  • Diana Davies (b. 1938)
  • Benedict J. Fernandez (b. 1936) extensively documented the 1968 Sanitation Worker's Strike in Memphis.
  • 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 March Against Fear in Mississippi; 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.[2]
  • Jack T. Franklin (1922-2009)[3]
  • Leonard Freed (1929-2006). Documented the March on Washington and other civil rights events.
  • Jill Freedman (born 1939). Extensively documented the 1968 Poor People's Campaign in Washington, D.C.[4]
  • Gene Herrick (1926), an Associated Press photojournalist, covered the Emmett Till trial, Autherine Lucy and the integration of the University of Alabama, the Montgomery Bus Boycott (photographing Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. being fingerprinted and booked), and the race riots in Clinton, TN in response to the integration of Clinton High School (Clinton, Tennessee), and the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.[5]
  • Matt Herron. Documented the Freedom Summer of 1964. That year, he organized a team of five photographers, The Southern Documentary Project, in an attempt to record the changing racial landscape of Mississippi.[6]
  • Bill Hudson (1932–2010), an Associated Press photojournalist, depicted police brutality against peaceful protesters, including the police dogs attacking students marching to talk to Birmingham's mayor during the 1963 Birmingham Children's Crusade.
  • David Johnson (born 1926), first African American student of Ansel Adams, photographed the 1963 March on Washington.[7]
  • 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.[8] 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 documenting the March, 1965 beating of many of the marchers during the first Selma to Montgomery march, known as “Bloody Sunday.” Speaking 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."[9]
  • 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."[10]
  • Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was assigned by Life in 1963 to travel with Malcolm X and document the civil rights movement.[11] He was also involved with the movement on a personal level. In 1947, Gordon Parks documented Dr. Kenneth and Mamie Clark's "Doll Test," pictures that were published in Ebony that year. The Doll Test was used as evidence in the Brown v. Board of Education trial and helped sway the ruling. Parks also photographed civil rights demonstrations, including the 1963 March on Washington, and documented Jim Crow Segregation for Life magazine.
  • Herbert Eugene Randall Jr. (1936) photographed the effects of the civil rights movement in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1964, at the request of Sanford R. Leigh, the Director of Mississippi Freedom Summer's Hattiesburg project. Randall spent the entire summer photographing solely in Hattiesburg, among the African-American community and the volunteers in area projects such as the Freedom Schools, Voter Registration, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party campaign. Five of Randall's photographs were published in the summer of 1964, and one seen worldwide was the bloodied, concussed Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, head of a prominent Cleveland congregation and former conscientious objector to World War II. In 1999 Randall donated 1,800 negatives to the archives of The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. He and Bobs Tusa, the archivist at USM, wrote Faces of Freedom Summer, which was published by the University of Alabama Press in 2001. Faces is the only record of a single town in the midst of America's civil rights movement.
  • Robert A. Sengstacke (1943 – 2017) was an award-winning photojournalist during the Civil Rights era. He made portraits of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and other prominent civil rights leaders.
  • Art Shay (1922 - 2018) photographed the Chicago Freedom Movement. Working freelance for Life, the Saturday Evening Post, Time and other magazines, Shay started covering integration issues in 1953. In 1959 he covered the Deerfield Housing Crisis, in 1961 block busting, then the 1963 Freedom March, school boycotts, and Martin Luther King's 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement rally at Soldier Field.[12][12][13] Shay also covered the 1966 Chicago and the 1967 Detroit riots.
  • Moneta Sleet Jr. (1926-1996) won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for his photograph of Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow, Coretta Scott King, at Dr. King's funeral. Sleet is the first African American man to win the Pulitzer,[14] and the first African American to win award for journalism.[15]
  • Cecil J. Williams began photographing the origin of the civil rights movement in Clarendon County, and Orangeburg, South Carolina; and at eleven years old, beginning with Thurgood Marshall, arriving by train in Charleston, South Carolina to argue the Briggs v. Elliott case. His collection of nearly one million film images is perhaps one of the largest in the world. At fourteen years old, he became a freelancer for JET. Later, he regularly contributed to the Afro-American, Pittsburgh Courier, and other weekly publications. Some of the notable events he photographed include: the Briggs v. Elliott petitioners, Elloree School Teachers, Minister Billy Graham's 1957 New York Crusade at Madison Square Garden, Harvey Gantt being admitted to Clemson University, John F. Kennedy's presidential announcement, the Orangeburg Massacre, and the Charleston Hospital Workers Strike. His photograph of Coretta Scott King involved in the Charleston Hospital Workers Strike was featured on the front cover of JET. Other photographs he made appeared in Newsweek, TIME, and the Associated Press. He was twice arrested and jailed for photographing student demonstrations. In 2015, he invented the FilmToaster, a fast camera scanning instrument, to scan his mammoth film collection. Many of his iconic images from the era of civil rights have appeared on the covers of numerous historical publications.
  • Ernest Withers (1922–2007) photographed African American history in the segregated South for over 60 years, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Emmett Till murder trial, Sanitation Worker's Strike, Negro league baseball, and musicians related to Memphis blues and Memphis soul.
  • Maria Varela (1940) worked for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee from 1963-1967 primarily in Alabama and Mississippi supporting civil rights organizers with educational materials and photographs. Varela authored several photo-based publications and filmstrips ranging from voter education training manuals to organizing co-operatives and farm-worker unions.[16] Some of her movement photography appeared in La Revista Porque (Mexico City), Chicano Press Association newspapers, numerous civil rights movement texts and photo exhibits. Three exhibits, “We’ll Never Turn Back” (1980) and “This Light of Ours” (2013-14) and “Time to Get Ready” are traveling extensively across the US.


  1. ^ James H. Barker Civil Rights Photos: Selma
  2. ^ "Bob Fitch Photos - Civil Rights, Farm Workers, Catholic Workers, Peace & Justice Movements". Bob Fitch Photo.
  3. ^ "The Photography of Jack T. Franklin". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  4. ^ New York Times: "Finding Inspiration in the Struggle at Resurrection City"
  5. ^ Drabble, Jenny. "Former AP photographer gives talk on meeting Martin Luther King Jr., other civil rights activists". Winston-Salem Journal. Retrieved 2017-01-16.
  6. ^ New York Times: "Matt Herron: A Cultural History of Civil Rights"
  7. ^ Schwab, Katharine (22 July 2013). "Photographer David Johnson in spotlight". SFGate.
  8. ^ Loke, Margarett (2002-04-05). "James Karales, Photographer of Social Upheaval, Dies at 71". The New York Times.
  9. ^ "Selma to Montgomery: A March for the Right to Vote". The Spider Martin Civil Rights Collection. Retrieved 2006-01-04.
  10. ^ "About Charles Moore". Kodak. Retrieved 2006-12-26.
  11. ^ "We Shall Overcome: Photographs from the American Civil Rights Era". LBJ Library and Museum. Archived from the original on 2002-10-17. Retrieved 2007-03-01. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  12. ^ a b Inc, Time (9 November 1953). "LIFE". Time Inc – via Google Books.
  13. ^ Archived 2017-07-25 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Fraser, C. Gerald (19 October 1986). "The Vision of Moneta Sleet in Show". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-12-22.
  15. ^ "Moneta Sleet, photographer of excellence". African American Registry]. Archived from the original on 2006-12-06. Retrieved 2006-12-22.
  16. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Adelman, Bob (Ed.);& Johnson, Charles (Intro.), MLK: A Celebration in Word and Image, Beacon Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8070-0316-9
  • Carson, Clayborne, ed. (2003). Civil Rights Chronicle: The African-American Struggle for Freedom. Legacy.
  • 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; "Freedom and Justice," 1995, Mercer University Press; "Orangeburg 1968: A Place and Time Remembered," 2009
  • Herron, Matt, "Mississippi Eyes: The story and photography of the Southern Documentary Project", 2014, Talking Fingers Press
  • Speltz, Mark (2016). North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South. Getty Publications. ISBN 9781606065051.
  • 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

External links[edit]