Special Exhibitions


EYEWITNESS

 

STEVE SCHAPIRO AND THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT

 

May 26 to August 27, 2017

 

»I have a dream« - these words by Martin Luther King Jr. symbolize the idea behind the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s: the dream of a world without racism and discrimination. The special exhibition »EYEWITNESS: STEVE SCHAPIRO AND THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT« is dedicated to this idea and follows the footsteps of those activists who have fought on the frontlines for the equality of African-Americans.

 

Within the framework of the exhibition, Museum THE KENNEDYS presents 42 black-and-white photographs of the renowned photographer Steve Schapiro. As an »Eyewitness«, Schapiro documented the crucial moments of the Civil Rights Movement between 1962 and 1968. Among them the legendary Selma-to-Montgomery-March of 1963.

 

The pictures are kept in a social-documentary style and originate from the artist’s early work. They impressively depict the everyday struggles of the African-American population in the Southern states and their passionate protest for a more just society. In their entirety, the photographs produce a striking documentation of the enormous social change that occurred in the United States during the decade.

 

Five protagonists, who have shaped the public image of the civil rights cause give the visitor an understanding of motives, means and objectives of the movement. Martin Luther King Jr., the leader and unifying force, Rosa Parks, the initiator of the first protests, James Baldwin, the writer who provided the literary soundtrack of the movement as well as Muhammad Ali, who like no other embodied the new African-American self-confidence, and Robert Kennedy on whose shoulders the hopes for political change rested.

 

But why were people protesting in the first place? Despite the abolition of slavery that resulted from the aftermath of the Civil War, the situation for Black Americans in the 1960s was still dismal, especially in the South. Here, they were still treated as second-class citizens. Segregation was the law of the land, which meant that public buildings and transportation were divided into two sections: white and black. The areas designated for Black people were usually threadbare at best or simply left to decay. Restaurants, bars and other private institutions often did not even grant Blacks entry into their establishments. Furthermore, lawmakers actively sought to exclude Black people from political participation by introducing perfidious and demeaning laws: e.g. in order to qualify to register to vote, prospective Black voters had to pass literacy tests.

 

Resistance started to form in the South in 1955: when Rosa Parks, a young Black activist, refused to give up her seat in the »white« section of a bus, her protest quickly attracted the attention of the whole nation and with Martin Luther King Jr. as its leader a new protest movement was born. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, King Jr. and his fellow activists followed the strategy of non-violent resistance. This movement would go down in history as the Civil Rights movement.

 

In this context, Steve Schapiro plays a decisive role: with his photographs, he was able to draw attention to the protests in the South, especially to the Selma-to-Montgomery-March. Schapiro’s pictures have been engraved deeply into the United States’ public consciousness and led to a wave of solidarity with the movement throughout the country, the U.S. government included: only four months after the activists had successfully completed the march to Montgomery, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act which guaranteed unrestricted voting rights to all Americans, no matter the color of their skin. It is for that reason that the march is considered a turning point in the history of the Civil rights Movement up to this day.

 

A tour of the exhibition offers vivid insights into a time not long passed during which U.S. society experienced substantial change. Schapiro’s work invites the visitor to reflect on the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement as well as on the prevalent challenges on the way towards a society without racism and discrimination.

 

We are looking forward to your visit!

© Steve Schapiro/ Courtesy CAMERA WORK
© Steve Schapiro/ Courtesy CAMERA WORK

© Steve Schapiro / Courtesy CAMERA WORK
© Steve Schapiro / Courtesy CAMERA WORK

© Steve Schapiro / Courtesy CAMERA WORK
© Steve Schapiro / Courtesy CAMERA WORK

© Steve Schapiro / Courtesy CAMERA WORK
© Steve Schapiro / Courtesy CAMERA WORK