This Light of Ours

Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement | February 14, 2015 – May 10, 2015

Exhibition Overview

Exploring the Civil Rights Movement through the work and voices of nine activist photographers, the exhibition dynamically documents the national struggle against segregation and other forms of race-based disenfranchisement.

It comprises 157 black-and-white images by Bob Adelman, George Ballis, Bob Fitch, Bob Fletcher, Matt Herron, David Prince, Herbert Randall, Maria Varela, and Tamio Wakayama and offers a remarkable, moving view of this crucial period in American history. Unlike images by photojournalists, who covered breaking news events, these photographers lived within the Civil Rights Movement—working primarily with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—to document the efforts of both activists and local citizens.


James Kerales
Freedom March: Selma to Montgomery, ca. 1986
Gelatin silver print
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art purchase with funds provided by Jeniam Foundation and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art Collections Management Committee, 2014.3


The accompanying audio guide brings these photographs to life through eye witness accounts and personal observations. This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement offers a remarkable opportunity to experience the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of those who were actively involved.

Organized by the Center for Documentary Expression and Art in Salt Lake City, Utah, and curated by Matt Herron, one of the contributing photographers, the exhibition’s name was inspired by “This Little Light of Mine;” the children’s gospel song, written by composer and teacher Harry Dixon Loes around 1920, to become a civil rights anthem during the 1950s and ‘60s. The exhibition highlights the efforts of unsung heroes within the movement, capturing the day-to-day struggles of everyday citizens working to register voters, hold workshops, and march for civil rights.


Brooks + National Civil Rights Museum

Pictures Tell the Story, an exhibition of photographs from the Brooks Museum’s permanent collection, was on view at the National Civil Rights Museum through April 20, 2015. Organized to run concurrently with This Light of Ours, Pictures Tell the Story includes works by famed Memphis photographer Ernest Withers.

Click here to visit the National Civil Rights Museum's website.


Ernest C. Withers
American, 1922 - 2007
Reverend Abernathy Embracing Rosa Parks, Benjamin Hooks (on left), SCLC Convention, Memphis, July, 1968
Silver gelatin print, printed from original negative in 1999
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art purchase with funds provided by Ernest and Dorothy Withers, Panopticon Gallery, Inc., Waltham, MA, Landon and Carol Butler, The Deupree Family Foundation, and The Turley Foundation, 2005.3.118

Brooks + Memphis Urban League Young Professionals

"It is not just the responsibility of our organization to entertain our members, but to educate them and galvanize them in the movement of progress for the young urbanites of greater Memphis. For this reason we chose to support a specific group of films in the series. An array of films which encompass the struggle of past generations, yet relate to the challenges of the current generation, creating symmetry between past and present."  –Rhonnie Brewer, Social & Cultural Chair, Memphis Urban League Young Professionals

The Memphis Urban League Young Professionals, in conjunction with This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement, partnered with the Brooks to bring a unique film series to the museum.


This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement is organized by the Center for Documentary Expression and Art. Major support for the exhibition has been provided by the Bruce W. Bastian Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Exhibition Curator: Matt Herron. Historical Consultant: Charlie Cobb Jr. Project Originators: Steven Kasher and Leslie Kelen.

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