Posts Tagged ‘montgomery’

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.


Mark Potok

Posted: August 8, 2010 in Mark Potok, People
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Mark Potok is a career investigative reporter who serves as Director of the Intelligence Project, a unique project which supports the legal work of the SPLC and its fight against hate groups, individuals and entities that foster or sponsor white supremacy and racism. In 1981, the Southern Poverty Law Center began investigating hate activity in response to a resurgence of groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Today the Intelligence Project monitors hate groups and tracks extremist activity throughout the U.S. It provides comprehensive updates to law enforcement, the media and the public through its quarterly magazine “Intelligence Report.” Staff members, who include investigators, research analysts and writers, regularly conduct training sessions for police, schools, and civil rights and community groups, and they often serve as experts at hearings and conferences.

J. Mills Thornton

Posted: August 8, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Dr. J. Mills Thornton earned his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1974, studying under C. Vann Woodward, the leading scholar of southern history and race relations of his time. A Professor of History at the University of Michigan, Dr. Thornton is a nationally known expert on the subject of the Civil Rights Movement and local activism, and Southern history during the period from 1815 to 1877. Professor Thornton was an academic advisor to “Eyes on the Prize” and is the author of “Dividing Lines: Municipal Politics and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma” and “Politics and Power in a Slave Society: Alabama 1800-1860.”

Judge Thompson was born 1947 in Tuskegee, Alabama. After graduating from Yale University in 1969 and Yale Law School in 1972, Myron Thompson became Assistant Attorney General for the State of Alabama, and then entered the private practice of law. In 1980, at age 33, he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to succeed the legendary Judge Frank Johnson, Jr. on the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, becoming the youngest federal judge to be appointed to the federal bench. Having presided over some of the most important cases in the court’s recent history, including Paradise v. Prescott — which had its origins in Judge Frank Johnson’s decision in Paradise v. Allen — Judge Thompson is a student of the role of the court, and the responsibility of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. In recent testimony on the subject of prison reform, he explained: “…If you seek an approach that will prevent constitutional violations, you must look not to the judiciary but rather to the executive and legislative branches of government, for the latter are the ones that have the authority to set up, or create groups, agencies and institutions to provide such broad, preventative oversight; only they can step in beforehand and actually prevent constitutional violations.” Courts, he emphasized, can only enforce the Constitution against violations of its guarantees and entitlements. To make true social progress, the executive and legislative branches have the power, not just to set minimum standards, but to create social institutions which exceed Constitutional minimums. In 2004, Judge Thompson was selected to give the Dean’s lecture at Yale Law School.