Archive for the ‘Day 6: Montgomery and Selma’ Category

KKK in the shadows at the SPLC

KKK in the shadows at the SPLC

I chose this picture to represent the second day in Montgomery because of the way it affected me.

I took it in the Southern Poverty Law Center. I was just kind of randomly shooting – shooting in museums is kind of hit or miss really but this one had such good interactivity. I was impressed and inspired by the information architecture and the relationship that designers chose between pictures and words that made for such a powerful display and a good learning experience that I was actually using my camera to take notes.

This shot was actually taken in a lecture room, and though I normally shoot back to front, the backdrop was so nondescript that my naked eye didn’t really notice it. I had been shooting this trip in vivid, high contrast settings trying to honor the style of the civil rights photographers – darkly joking that their style helped the movement by making blacks look blacker and whites look whiter. The first shot with this backdrop was actually a group shot, and my classmates and teacher were actually smiling, laughing. As I saw the shot take place in my view-panel on the camera, both the sight of it and the metaphor made my knees buckle and took the wind out of me. So of course I kept shooting.

The metaphor is this – Professor Arsenault is brave, sticking his neck out by essentially unearthing a lot of the details of the Civil Rights Movement in the deepest of the deep south and traveling to the sites, students in tow, to pay honor to places that the region would likely rather forget (more on that when we get to Anniston). Essentially behind the veneer of the soft-spoken articulate intellectual is a tough guy standing strong and recognizing heroes that could have disappeared in history. And Dee sitting next to him teaches teenagers about the holocaust, I can’t begin to think about what her day is like and the questions she has to answer, attitudes she has to help kids confront. Both of them, people I like very much, potential targets.

The second layer of this metaphor for me, once the photo revealed the backdrop it was hard to see anything else, and yet the group was oblivious to the giant image of the hooded man behind them. This was how the KKK operated, at night, in the shadows until it was time to strike. Prototypical boogiemen. I didn’t like this looming behind the people I had grown to know and in some instances love during this week. The knee-buckling came from this visual which made me feel the same way I feel during this reoccurring nightmare that I have had regularly since I was a kid. The gist of it is, I see something awful in the distance and I am with people I love. I am always calm, and the only one who sees it, and I am the only one who escapes. I try really hard to warn and rescue folks to no avail.

My nightmare, it turns out, was surely a reality for people who lived in this period and had to deal with the KKK. I am reminded of a quote I heard from Rosa Parks the day before this was taken,“It was just a matter of survival, of existing from one day to the next. I remember going to sleep as a girl and hearing the Ku Klux Klan ride at night and hearing a lynching and being afraid the house would burn down.” How are could someone be anything but powerless when they are captured at night? The reality of lynching is hard for me to take, yet through the study of civil rights I feel like I now have the strength to look it in the eye, and to make sure I am never ever in a circumstance where I am sticking my head in the sand.

This picture will remind me to always look in the shadows and be watching the backs of the people I believe in.

Advertisements

Marching Selma Edmund Pettus Bridge

Marching Selma


I chose the photo to represent this day because I wanted to remember how I felt going over that bridge.
 
Selma, Alabama was so quiet on a Thursday afternoon it was unnerving. We spent some time at a voting rights museum at the foot of the Pettus Bridge. It seems like such an unassuming place and I wondered that if I didn’t know the history of what happened there, if I would have been feeling the vibe that I was.
 
During the Civil War, Selma was a foundry town, manufacturing war ships and weapons. And in March of 1865 there was the Battle of Selma. 
 
A hundred years later in March of 1965, in an event that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, 600-ish civil rights marchers left Selma on highway 80, made it about six blocks, and were met on the downside of the Edmund Pettus bridge by Alabama State Troopers and local sheriff’s deputies with tear gas and billy clubs, who beat the marchers up, loaded them into paddy wagons, and drove them back to the other side of the bridge.
 
Arsenault led our class to the starting point of the march, and we followed him over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He also made us be quiet and reverent, which for once no one seemed to mind. I wanted to hustle ahead of the class and get a shot of everyone that honored a shot I had seen of the Bloody Sunday March.
 
But when we got on the bridge, I knew it would be unwise to do so.
 
Some drivers didn’t pull over. But others sped up and swiped close, one carload even said something smart.
 
Here, I vowed, whenever I see something where a group is gathered…
 
Whether or not I am late for work.
 
Or on my way to somewhere important.
 
Or distracted and irritated if they are in my way.
 
I can at the very least.
 
Slow down.
 
And give them a little honor, no matter what they are doing.
 
I tried like I did in Birmingham, another place that provided some of the most haunting imagery in this country’s history, to take some shots that capture both the reverence of the day and the moments of stillness.