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Civl Rights Portfolio (01)-web

Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement

2014 is the 50th anniversary of the passage of The Civil Rights Act, the landmark legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Danny Lyon was the first staff photographer — between 1962 and 1964 — for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Lyon would go on to make some of the most important bodies of work about the American condition (The Bikeriders; Conversations With The Dead) and as such his very early work as a very young man is often overlooked.

The Etherton Gallery’s exhibition ‘Danny Lyon: Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement’ opened on Saturday and shows 50 silver gelatin prints from Selma, Birmingham, and Montgomery, Alabama; Albany, Georgia; and Danville, Virginia. We see images of student protests and mobilization against racism,  lunch counter sit-ins, student beatings, tear gassings, the jailing of Martin Luther King Jr., and the unscheduled visit of a young Bob Dylan to SNCC headquarters in Greenwood, Mississippi. Lyon, was harassed, beaten and jailed during his two years as a staff photographer.

SOME THOUGHTS ON AZ

Where better to look back on an era in which society treated people with different coloured skin than in modern day Arizona? The passing of SB1070 in 2010 was a legislative bill that essentially permitted veiled racism and racial profiling. In activism, folks are always on the look out for new allies and for audiences who really need to hear the message. A message of anti-racism message and some historical perspective is vital for residents of Arizona currently. I’m not saying that people of Arizona are inherently racist; I am saying the services and institutions that claim to serve them have procedures that result in racist acts.

There are some fine activists in Arizona (they’ve necessarily and wonderfully organised) and this is particularly true of Tucson and some clever geographer-activist-academics. May Lyon’s photographs play their part in making Arizonans and us angry. Lyon would want nothing more than his show to leave us rageful at our society of inequality.

DETAILS

Etherton Gallery, 135 S. 6th Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701 Tel: 520.624.7370. Email: info@ethertongallery.com.

Danny Lyon: Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement’ runs through March 15, 2014.

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All photos: Danny Lyon © Dektol.wordpress.com. Courtesy of the Etherton Gallery

“THE STUNNING SILENCE”

For every nine people we execute, there is one exoneration.

Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, makes the point that if one in every ten aeroplanes fell out the sky the entire industry would be shut down overnight.

Why is it we turn a blind eye to unnecessary deaths in the criminal justice system?

“The criminal justice system treats you better if you are rich & guilty than if you are poor & innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes,” says Stevenson.

Why the non-engagement with issues of poverty, racial inequality, disenfranchisement. Why the “stunning silence”?

Stevenson moved hearts and stole the show at this year’s TED conference, one attendee has told me. He lays out some shocking statistics but puts them in a context of optimism, basically saying to the world (and the monied, influential audience) you are party to this ongoing inequality, but you no longer need to deny it.

Stevenson doesn’t say “you”, he says “we” can change it; we can adopt a collective identity that embraces the best and the worst of our society. He warns that living with eyes wide open to injustice and poverty is a much more difficult existence, but – such is his logic, persuasion and truth – the difficulty is one to relish and not one to hide from any longer.

POSTSCRIPT

As I intimated in January, I believe that prison and criminal justice reform is more and more discussed and in the public consciousness. The warmth shown to Stevenson and the receptiveness to his message supports my belief. We can hope that those with money and influence are right behind Stevenson and others of his ilk.

Hat-tip to Suzie Katz of PhotoWings for alerting me to Stevenson’s TED talk.

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prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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