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The Long Road: From Selma to Fer­gu­son

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

The Long Road: From Selma to Fer­gu­son at Monroe Gallery of Pho­tog­ra­phy

IN June 1964, civil rights work­ers James Chaney, An­drew Good­man, and Michael Sch­w­erner were in Neshoba County, Mis­sis­sippi, hop­ing to garner sup­port from the com­mu­nity for a free ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­ity called a Free­dom School, part of a na­tion­wide ef­fort to im­prove the so­cial con­di­tions and equal­ity of African-Amer­i­cans. On the night of June 21, the three men were hunted down, cap­tured, and shot by mem­bers of a lo­cal chap­ter of the Ku Klux Klan in a con­spir­acy aided and abet­ted by mem­bers of the lo­cal law en­force­ment. In the midst of grow­ing civil un­rest, pho­to­jour­nal­ist Steve Schapiro, whose im­ages from the civil rights era have be­come in­grained in the lex­i­con of Amer­i­can history, was in Neshoba County on as­sign­ment for Life mag­a­zine. “I was re­ally the first pho­tog­ra­pher to come to Mis­sis­sippi right af­ter the civil rights work­ers dis­ap­peared,” Schapiro told Pasatiempo. “I had seen this burly sher­iff in a town square. I was tak­ing pic­tures. He came up to me and took the cam­era out of my hand, opened the back, threw the film on the ground, and handed me back my cam­era. I didn’t re­al­ize he was Sher­iff Rainey, who was one of the ring­leaders in the killings.” The sher­iff, Lawrence Rainey, de­nied al­le­ga­tions of his in­volve­ment and was later ac­quit­ted of the mur­ders, but the case un­der­scored the na­ture of what peo­ple fight­ing for de­seg­re­ga­tion and the end of dis­crim­i­na­tion were up against: the main­te­nance of the sta­tus quo. “It was a non­vi­o­lent, church-mo­ti­vated group­ing against peo­ple who had grown up in a par­tic­u­lar way and wanted to pre­serve what they had grown up with.”

Schapiro’s black-and-white pho­to­graphs are at the heart of Monroe Gallery of Pho­tog­ra­phy’s group ex­hi­bi­tion, The Long Road: From Selma to Fer­gu­son, doc­u­ment­ing the history of the move­ment from the 1960s to the present day through more than 50 com­pelling im­ages: Stan­ley J. For­man’s The Soil­ing

of Old Glory, de­pict­ing a man us­ing an Amer­i­can flag pole to spear an African-Amer­i­can man, and Charles Moore’s im­age of de­mon­stra­tors be­ing fire-hosed in Birm­ing­ham, Alabama in 1963 are among them. “There are prob­a­bly five or six pho­tog­ra­phers who pho­tographed the civil rights marchers and their pic­tures were shown a fair amount,” Schapiro said. “We lived, at that time, in a pe­riod of jour­nal­ism where Life and other mag­a­zines re­ally were the core of what the coun­try saw. News was just com­ing out of its 15 min­utes at six o’clock pe­riod and slowly get­ting into 24-hour news. Still, the mag­a­zines held sway for a lit­tle longer.”

Schapiro’s work ap­peared in The New York Times Mag­a­zine and other prom­i­nent U.S. publi­ca­tions such as Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and Peo­ple. But it was his photos of the marches from Selma to Mont­gomery, Alabama, many of which were shot for Life, that res­onate to­day in light of re­cent protests and demon­stra­tions over po­lice bru­tal­ity, par­tic­u­larly in African-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties. “Three of my fa­vorite pic­tures, which I think are in the show, are the panorama of Martin Luther King Jr. with lieu­tenants lead­ing the march where you can see only about 300 peo­ple be­hind him, which was all that were al­lowed to march on the high­way; the pro­tester laugh­ing at the troop­ers; and a pic­ture which I re­ally love of the peo­ple stand­ing on the street in Mont­gomery, the on­look­ers.” The last of the three pic­tures de­picts sev­eral African-Amer­i­cans ob­serv­ing the Selma march from street level as a group of white men watch from a bal­cony above. The im­age it­self speaks of seg­re­ga­tion of­fer­ing a dra­matic con­trast be­tween the two groups of on­look­ers. “It’s only been six or seven months now since I dis­cov­ered those pic­tures and a num­ber of oth­ers which had never been edited, printed, or pub­lished be­fore. It’s par­tic­u­larly amaz­ing with re­gard to the panorama shot. It was an im­age I never caught on to un­til I started work­ing on a book for Taschen on civil rights. I dis­cov­ered this im­age, which I’d never re­ally seen. What hap­pened with Life is your film would go by Amer­i­can Air­lines overnight to a lab that would print it. It was not un­til much, much later that you ever saw your con­tact sheets.”

One of Schapiro’s im­ages from 1965, ti­tled Stop Po­lice Killings, seems culled from the head­lines of to­day’s news. In the wake of the po­lice killings of un­armed African-Amer­i­cans — Eric Garner in New York on July 17, 2014, Michael Brown in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, on Aug. 9, 2014, and Wal­ter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, on April 4 of this year, to high­light just a few of sev­eral re­cent high-pro­file in­ci­dents — Schapiro’s pho­to­graph re­minds us that such killings have a long and sor­did history, one of the rea­sons that public out­cry over the latest in­ci­dents, call­ing for an end to the prac­tice of racial pro­fil­ing, have be­come part of a na­tional di­a­logue on race re­la­tions in the U.S. When she saw Schapiro’s photo, St. Louis-based pho­to­jour­nal­ist Whit­ney Curtis was taken aback. “When I was cov­er­ing Fer­gu­son, that phrase ‘stop po­lice killings’ was on a very pop­u­lar T-shirt peo­ple were wear­ing out on the street,” she told Pasatiempo. Whit­ney’s pho­to­graphs from the Fer­gu­son protests are in­cluded in The Long Road ex­hi­bi­tion. In one, a man holds a cell phone to record the po­lice in Fer­gu­son dur­ing a demon­stra­tion. The im­age puts one in mind of the role of so­cial media plat­forms like Twit­ter and Face­book in dis­sem­i­nat­ing knowl­edge of events as they un­fold, reach­ing un­prece­dented num­bers of peo­ple.

It is pre­cisely these kinds of im­ages by Whit­ney — fires burn­ing dur­ing a riot, a man with his arms raised in what has be­come known as the “hands up, don’t shoot” ges­ture, fac­ing off against ar­mored per­son­nel ve­hi­cles — that stir up mem­o­ries from decades past and re­mind us that, though laws have changed, some at­ti­tudes have not. Whit­ney’s shot of Rashaad Davis, an un­armed African-Amer­i­can back­ing away from St. Louis po­lice of­fers in riot gear with their weapons drawn, oc­curred mo­ments be­fore Rashaad was ar­rested, ap­par­ently be­cause of a war­rant for fail­ure to ap­pear in court. “I was able to track him down two or three months later,” Whit­ney said. “That’s how I know his name. He had ac­tu­ally been in pain for months af­ter that ar­rest. The war­rant should have been dropped a year prior. He was re­leased with­out charges af­ter two months.”

Whit­ney re­ceived a call from The New York Times the day af­ter Brown’s death at the hands of Fer­gu­son po­lice of­fi­cer Dar­ren Wil­son. “They wanted me to go to Fer­gu­son on the morn­ing of Aug. 11th to pho­to­graph a planned protest in front of the po­lice depart­ment there. I found out there was go­ing to be a peace vigil the night of Aug. 10th. I thought I would go and, not even take any pic­tures, but get the lay of the land and the mood of peo­ple on the ground. I did end up tak­ing pic­tures and that was the first night that things went from be­ing peace­ful to ex­plod­ing

on the streets. From then on, for the most part, I was on as­sign­ment for The New York Times. I know for a fact that, here in St. Louis, since the Michael Brown shoot­ing, there have been at least seven or eight other of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ings of African-Amer­i­can men. I think the events in Fer­gu­son, Eric Garner’s death, and now Charleston are get­ting more at­ten­tion and a lot of that has to do with so­cial media. Amer­i­cans, white and black, are tuned into what is hap­pen­ing in the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.” The mur­der of nine con­gre­gants at­tend­ing a prayer meet­ing on June 17 at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church, a church with a history that pre­dates the civil rights era, brought the past into the present once more. Un­like the Brown, Garner, and Scott deaths, the mo­ti­va­tion, this time, was in­dis­putable. The per­pe­tra­tor, a white su­prem­a­cist named Dy­lann Roof, was tar­get­ing the church at­ten­dees specif­i­cally be­cause of their race and chose a lo­ca­tion noted for its role in pro­mot­ing civil rights. At the time of this writ­ing, another in­ci­dent in Bal­ti­more was un­fold­ing when of­fi­cers stormed a home in re­sponse to a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence call and shot another un­armed African-Amer­i­can male. The Long Road couldn’t be more timely.

©Steve Schapiro: On the Road, Selma March, 1965; op­po­site page, top ©Whit­ney Curtis: Rashaad Davis, 23, Backs Away as St. Louis County Po­lice Of­fi­cers Ap­proach Him With Guns Drawn and Even­tu­ally Ar­rest Him, Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, Aug. 11, 2014; bot­tom, ©Steve Schapiro: “Stop Po­lice Killings ,“Selma March, 1965; all pho­to­graphs cour­tesy Monroe Gallery of Pho­tog­ra­phy

From top to bot­tom, ©Charles Moore: Fire­men Turn Fire Hoses on De­mon­stra­tors, Birm­ing­ham, Alabama, 1963; ©Whit­ney Curtis: James Ford Jr. Ap­proaches St. Louis County Po­lice to Ques­tion Them as to Why They Are Choos­ing to Block a Sec­tion of W. Floris­sant Ave. in Dell­wood, Mis­souri, Aug. 17, 2014; Paul Schutzer/©Time Inc: Free­dom Riders Ju­lia Aaron & David Dennis Sit­ting on Board In­ter­state Bus as They and 25 Oth­ers Are Es­corted by Two Na­tional Guards­men Hold­ing Bay­o­nets, on Way From Mont­gomery, Alabama, to Jack­son, Mis­sis­sippi, May 1961

©Steve Schapiro: Watch­ing the Selma March En­ter Mont­gomery, Alabama, 1965

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