Photographer Danny Lyon’s pictures of the civil-rights motion resonate

From 1963 to 1964, Danny Lyon, a photographer from Brooklyn, New York, traveled south to document the civil rights movement. He was a white man, sympathetic to the movement and considered himself a “photographer as a participant”.

Fifty-seven of his black and white photos depicting sit-ins, arrests, protests, speeches and more can be seen in “Danny Lyon: Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement” in the Schumacher Gallery of Capital University. Along with the Lyon photos, 22 photos and four large wooden panels are printed with messages – all created by local artists during the Summer Black Lives Matter events in Columbus. The pairing connects two eras of protest that matter all year round, not just during Black History Month.

Lyon’s photos were published in The Movement and later in Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, his memoir for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

The photos show a large number of well-known civil rights activists. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Ralph Abernathy were transferred back to Albany, Georgia prison in 1962.

A young John Lewis can be seen in a contemplative portrait from 1963 in Nashville, Tennessee, and another photo in Cairo, Illinois, kneeling with a young man and girl in prayer.

Bob Dylan is captured playing guitar behind the SNCC office in Greenwood, Mississippi. His audience includes Bernice Reagon, founder of the a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., front left, and Rev. Ralph Abernathy are transferred back to Albany, Georgia prison in 1962.

Many of the photographs are disturbing, even if they have a factual tone. A small “colored” drinking fountain stands next to a much larger “white drinking fountain”. Two black men hold up signs reading “Register to Vote” on the steps of the federal building in Selma, Alabama. There’s another just below the photo that shows how they were arrested and then taken to prison. Broken glass windows of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, testify to the murder of four girls who were killed by a Ku Klux Klan bomb.

“Arrested for a demonstration in Americus, Georgia,” shows teenage girls locked in a stockade with no beds or working sanitary facilities. Lyon noted that in 1963 he “took pictures through the broken glass of the barred windows”.

The recent protest photos of Columbus, presented in partnership with the Greater Columbus Arts Council, show the longevity and ongoing passion in the struggle for social justice.

Brittoney J. Roane’s “Purpose” captures well-dressed African American protesters, including two young boys, in suits and bow ties.

In an untitled night photo by Ezra M. Ngabo, a gloomy girl stands next to a man wearing a shirt with a black thing about life, one foot on a lighted skateboard and one fist raised to the sky.

Women are being held on the Leesburg Stockade after being arrested for demonstrating in Americus, Georgia.  They have no beds or sanitary facilities.

One of the large panels made of plywood from boarded-up windows in Columbus has a quote from King in large letters: “Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The director of the Schumacher Galerie, David Gentilini, said he had asked the Greater Columbus Arts Council to add what it considers to be an “important story” to the exhibition.

He booked Danny Lyon’s photos three years ago.

“I knew it was going to be a great show,” he said, “but I didn’t know it was going to be so topical and important now.”

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At a glance

“Danny Lyon: Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement” continues until March 27th at the Schumacher Gallery on the fourth floor of Capital University’s Blackmore Library, 2309 E. Main St., Bexley. The gallery will be closed from February 27th to March 7th due to a break. Regular opening times: Monday to Friday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Also available by appointment at 614-236-6319. Visit

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