I, Too, Am America: Civil Rights Photographs by Steve Schapiro features forty-eight photographs from the late 1950s/1960s Civil Rights Movement. The exhibition is curated by Harn Curator of Photography, Carol McCusker, in collaboration with photojournalist Steve Schapiro. The exhibition title comes from a poem by Langston Hughes.
The exhibition has three distinct sections. The central component consists of forty black and white photographs by activist-photojournalist, Steve Schapiro, who traveled in the 1960s with James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and Muhammad Ali. Schapiro’s photographs capture key moments during marches and rallies, as well as candid moments with the major leaders of the Movement that have become emblematic of that volatile era.
Also included in the exhibition are photographs by African American photographer, Gordon Parks, from his 1956 “LIFE Magazine” photo essay on segregation in Jim Crow Alabama. Alongside his images will be the actual “LIFE Magazine” layout and storyline that features a single, extended family’s struggle against racism.
Lastly, running continuously in the gallery will be the documentary film, “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket” (1990; 87 minutes), about author-activist, James Baldwin. A brilliant thinker and orator, Baldwin’s life and words will be introduced to a younger generation and re-inspire those who already know of him. As a gay black man, he was a passionate writer, eloquent Civil Rights speaker, and formidable media commentator whose words still ring true today. Through his travels and residencies in France, Switzerland and Turkey, he saw firsthand how differently blacks were treated abroad versus in the United States. Through his words and deeds, Baldwin sought to bring our shared humanity to the fore, and advocated for “truth and reconciliation” by confronting America’s past, and then forgiveness—not unlike post-apartheid South Africa three decades later. Bold quotes from Baldwin will be on the gallery walls accompanying the photographs.
I, Too, Am America is vital to today’s Black Lives Matter Movement, since the civil rights of many are still not a reality. The struggle for equal rights and justice continues in a new form today, using social media and activism to rally communities nationwide and globally. Yet, the inspirational photographs of Schapiro and Parks, combined with Baldwin’s words, prove that change can and did happen—albeit slowly—by bravely and persistently “speaking truth to power.”
This exhibition is made possible by the Sidney Knight Endowment with additional support from the Harn Curator of Photography Endowment.