Friday, October 27, 2006

Library to Show Birmingham News Civil Rights Photographs

BIRMINGHAM—Putting flesh on the bones of Birmingham’s civil rights history.

That’s how Marjorie White, Birmingham Historical Society director, describes the new exhibit of 41 never-before-seen photos from the archives of the Birmingham News. Each depicts the turbulent and emotional events sweeping our city during the 1950s and 60s.

The exhibit, entitled “Unseen. . . .Unforgotten/Civil Rights Photographs from The Birmingham News,” runs November 5-December 30 in the Library Gallery of the Birmingham Public Library. The Opening Reception is Sunday, November 5 from 3-5 p.m.

The photos, shot by News photographers yet never published, reveal gripping and telling moments such as:

  • A child bearing a sign reading “Can a Man Love God and Hate His Brother?”
  • Mayor Albert Boutwell following the news of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing
  • A youthful and determined Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth counseling Freedom Riders
  • A pensive, brooding Dr. Martin Luther King
  • Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor directing arrests of marchers
  • The arrest of high school student Mattie Howard, demonstrator in the Children’s Crusade
  • Calming the crowd after a house bombing

“These are extraordinary portraits of real people who lived this Movement,” says White of the collection drawn from the News archive of more than 5,000 unseen civil rights era images. “They are the people, the places, and the action—what you expect from good photo-journalism. Thousands of words fill history books, yet, in these photos, this is the story of the Birmingham Movement.”

A News photo intern named Alexander Cohn discovered the negatives filed by year and photographer during his summer employment with the paper. He digitized 2,000 of the images, and interviewed living photographers and Movement participants for background. A portion of those photos may be viewed online at

“Each photo in the Library exhibit is captioned, placing it in the context of its part of the story,” says White. “Seeing the exhibit shows you the power of the photographs—and you better understand the circumstances of what took place. “All these years later, the history is still painful,” she continues, “but as Reverend Shuttlesworth himself concluded, ‘Let it never be forgotten that the Birmingham Movement provided the vehicle and the shock force that shook the nation’s moral conscience.’” The events in Birmingham directly resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, legislating equal rights for all Americans.’”

The exhibit is open to the public at no charge. For more information, contact Marjorie White, Birmingham Historical Society, One Sloss Quarters, Birmingham, AL 35222, 251-1880,

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