Humanity Behind the Movement
When you take a moment to recall the Civil Righs Movement, what do you think of first? Most individuals first think of the riots or marches, but those are not the only aspects of the movement. This exhibition is not only about the civil rights movement but the people in it; not just Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks; but those who were not so front and center during the crucial moments. The civil rights movement itself was a time of change and Black self-discovery. Behind the movement was a community of people. Every member played a vital part. There are thousands of faces and names that history has forgotten to include in her encyclopedia of participants.
These are not images of police dogs, fire hoses, paddy wagons, guns, violence, or people giving speeches. While all of those are very valuable to maintaining a historical record of events, there are photographs that get less recognition. These photographs display images of humanity. As courageous as these leaders were, it is easy to forget that many of them were just teenagers and young adults. Some were even younger. The same fear and emotional trauma that we see and feel in response to the deaths of victims of police brutality were felt by protesters fifty years ago, as well.
Voting rights were a large focus of the movement, which is often forgotten in modern retellings of the events. Some leaders worked tirelessly as lawyers, others worked to register people in their communities to vote. People who did not live in big cities hung posters in support of these movements. Wagons and front yards became billboards for human rights, and what people could not give in money they gave in time and hospitality.
It is important that the displays of violence and courage, which are so often held up as paramount in the history of the movement, are balanced by a constant reminder of the humanity behind it all. These were not superhuman beings, they were people who were living in constant fear for their lives, people in need of emotional support as well as human interaction. These fighters experienced extreme highs and lows in short periods of time. The sheer amount of work and commitment that this movement required would mentally and physically exhaust anyone.
Some people protested by helping people to register to vote and others attempted to or successfully cast their ballots under the threat of retaliation. Not all sit-ins became violent; sometimes there were moments of joy and community cultivated at the lunch counters, the lack of other patrons being the only clue as to the sinister context behind those photos. People watched cops from the windows of the freedom ride buses and sought comfort by holding the hand of fellow riders. These seemingly small moments gave way to the impact the movement has today. Without the involvement of countless unrecognized individuals, the leaders we know and love would have been left in the shadows of history.
Curated by Airis Aaron, Clarke Austin, Caitlin Johnson, and Breeze Smith