Documenting Civil Rights

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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.


Image Credits/Captions (Click on thumbnails for full image)

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

Sit-in, Raleigh, North Carolina, 10 February 1960. Gelatin silver print. 6 5/8 x 10 in. Courtesy of United Press International

Robert Sengstacke. Savior’s Day Gathering, Chicago, 1966. © 1989 Robert A. Sengstacke. Collection Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC

Benedict J. Fernandez. Memphis, Tennessee, April, 6 1968. Gelatin silver print. 8 3/16 x 12 3/8 in. International Center of Photography, Gift of Benedict J. Fernandez, 1990, 68.1990