Freedom Now!: Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle

Overview

Photographers shot millions of pictures of the black civil rights struggle between the close of World War II and the early 1970s, yet most Americans today can recall just a handful of images that look remarkably similar.
In the popular imagination, the civil rights movement is remembered in dramatic photographs of protestors attacked with police dogs and fire hoses, firebombs and shotguns, tear gas and billy clubs. The most famous images of the...

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Overview

Photographers shot millions of pictures of the black civil rights struggle between the close of World War II and the early 1970s, yet most Americans today can recall just a handful of images that look remarkably similar.
In the popular imagination, the civil rights movement is remembered in dramatic photographs of protestors attacked with police dogs and fire hoses, firebombs and shotguns, tear gas and billy clubs. The most famous images of the era show black activists victimized by violent Southern whites.

But there are other stories to be told. Blacks changed America through their action, not their suffering.
In this groundbreaking catalogue, Martin Berger presents a collection of forgotten photographs that illustrate the action, heroism, and strength of black activists in driving social and legislative change. Freedom Now! highlights the power wielded by black men, women, and children in courthouses, community centers, department stores, political conventions, schools, and streets.

Freedom Now! reveals that we have inherited a photographic canon—and a picture of history—shaped by whites’ comfort with unthreatening images of victimized blacks. And it illustrates how and why particular people, events, and issues have been edited out of the photographic story we tell about our past. By considering the different values promoted in the forgotten photographs, readers will gain an understanding of African Americans’ role in rewriting U.S. history and the high stakes involved in selecting images with which to narrate our collective past.
 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 12/09/2013
Relying exclusively on works available to the mainstream press, including the archives of the Associated Press and Time/Life Pictures, UC-Santa Cruz art historian Berger (Seeing Through Race) explores “how and why particular people, events, and issues have been edited out of the photographic story we tell about our past.” After revisiting the canonical photographs (for example, firemen hosing demonstrators in Birmingham) and a sampling of familiar 19th-century photographs, the second half of this groundbreaking book brings the forgotten to the foreground, with images organized thematically: “Strength,” “Women,” “Children and Youths,” “Joy.” For example, the famous photograph of Elizabeth Eckford in Little Rock, Ark., tells one heroic story, while the photo of an unidentified student surrounded by empty chairs in Clinton, Tenn., tells another—the latter more typical of the “lonely, daily struggles black students faced… away from the street battles and court clashes that so animated accounts in the white press.” While the images are remarkable and all meaningfully annotated, Berger’s content is what makes this an important book: a cautionary tale for those for whom the “civil rights story is overwhelmingly one of well-behaved black protestors victimized by racist and violent whites,” a thought-provoking assay about the role media played in the gap between white assumptions about, and black experiences of, the movement, and an admonition for historians. (Jan.)
Peace News
"This is a beautiful and moving book that anyone remotely interested in the topic will want to read."
Library Journal
11/01/2013
Collecting photographs of an aggressive, active civil rights movement, University of California, Santa Cruz, art history professor Berger challenges the popular (and nonthreatening) image of this period of activism as solely passive and pacifist.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520280199
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 1/17/2014
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 8.70 (w) x 10.70 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin A. Berger is Professor of History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of Seeing through Race: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography, Sight Unseen: Whiteness and American Visual Culture, and Man Made: Thomas Eakins and the Construction of Gilded Age Manhood, all from UC Press.

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