Using Photography to Capture the Evolution of Civil Rights

Using Photography to Capture the Evolution of Civil Rights

As we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day this week, we saw many striking reminders of the power of photography in documenting progress and creating change. The issue of race in America is as strong as ever, and as we pause to celebrate one of the greatest leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, we examine the power of photography in the last half-century.

From Selma to Ferguson, the last half-century has seen both progress and tumult in the fight for racial equality, with photography being there to document both the victories and the tribulations. With much still to be done, it's important to recognize how photographers have and continue to promote change. 

While video and sound are inarguably powerful, images immortalize a single moment, forever searing them into our memories as the representation of those pivotal points in time. Here are some of the most powerful images that captured the struggle, suffering, and fight for equality.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. giving a speech at the Chicago Freedom Movement in 1966:

A women embodies the "Hands up, don't shoot" protest as a cloud of tear gas approaches in Ferguson, MO:

A federal soldier stands guard during the 1967 Detroit Riots that killed over 40 people:

A civil rights demonstration in 1965:

National Guardsmen train their bayonets on protestors in Memphis, 1968:

18 year-old Keshia Thomas protects a Neo-Nazi and alleged KKK member after tensions boil over at a KKK rally in 1996. Thomas would later say: "You don't beat a man up because he doesn't believe the same things you do. He's still somebody's child."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. arrives in Montgomery, AL, after leading a march from Selma, 1965:

Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, arrives at Little Rock Central High School in 1957:

Rosa Parks sits near the front of a bus in 1956:

A 17 year-old protestor is attacked by a police dog in New York in 1965. A similar photo would be the front of the next day's New York Times:

Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos give the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games:

Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States and the first African-American to hold the office.

What memories and images come to your mind when you think of the Civil Rights Movement and current events? Share them in the comments.

Lead image via the National Archives, public domain.

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Junior Robles's picture

Those are powerful. Unrelated to the Civil Rights Movement, I think one that stands out for me is an image taken by Richard Drew on September 11, 2001. It's titled "A falling man". There are tons more I can name. For now that one sticks out in my head.

Alex Cooke's picture

That's such a powerful image... I'll never forget that.