Provocative photographs and righteous babes
Fifty years ago, in a speech at Illinois Wesleyan University, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. responded to the Watts riots of the previous year with a carefully calibrated appeal. In its suggestion that part of the solution lay in the economics of the time, King’s call today sounds sadly familiar.
“We must build a great America. It cannot be built on violence. It cannot be built on riots. And everybody must work hard to build a climate and to change the conditions that make for the bitterness and that make for the agony that cause individuals to turn to this kind of self-destruction,” he said. “… In spite of the difficulties ahead, in spite of the fact that we must work hard, I still have faith in the future. And I still have faith in America, because I love America, and I believe that we will continue to build a coalition of conscience
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Two years later, the civil rights leader and advocate for nonviolence was dead, his assassination sparking a new wave of riots in major cities across the country.
In Oakland during that tense summer of 1968, two photographers, German-born Ruth-Marion Baruch and Louisiana native Pirkle Jones, took a series of pictures of a “Free Huey” rally. The gathering was organized by the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in support of one of its founders, Huey Newton, awaiting trial in the shooting death of a police officer (his conviction was overturned in 1970).
One of the remarkable things about these pictures is their focus on the crowd, the majority of which are not radicals in ominous black shades, but neatly dressed, middle-class families, perhaps encouraged by the Panthers’ grassroots work on issues such as education and health care.
When some of the photographs taken by Baruch and Jones were put on display last year in the exhibit “The Summer of ’68: Photographing the Black Panthers” at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, the show was scheduled to run through Nov. 29. But the response to the pictures was so overwhelming that the Norton extended the exhibit through this Sunday.
On this three-day weekend, when coalitions of conscience gather and conversations are had about the way forward, there may be something to be learned in looking back at “The Summer of ’68” at the Norton Museum. At the very least, it’s a reminder that we’re all in this together. Info: Norton.org.
Diane Ward will be joined by Magda Hiller Saturday night at Luna Star Cafe.