The Civil Rights Motion for Blacks haunts us even right now

Inspired by protests against Black Lives Matter, I offer a photo essay as a powerful reminder that the struggle continues decades after the civil rights movement.

With my photo project, I wanted to point out the parallels between the US civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the Black Lives Matter movement because we still have the same social problems.

I first found common protest signs that were used during the civil rights movement and then contrasted those images with the signs of the Black Lives Matter to show the similarities between the movements. I scanned the negatives into a computer and photographed images of people from the civil rights movement on my background.

Adding these images gave my work the eerie feeling that the people who were then fighting to end racism against blacks cannot rest in peace because we are still fighting against it today. They still haunt us today.

My montage is based on a photo by George Ballis from a 1964 protest outside the Atlantic City Convention Center in support of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Posters saying “I am a man” were common during the civil rights movement, and I speak of “I am a person”. The beheading dehumanizes the man and contradicts the poster. The whites of the eyes and multiple heads create a ghostly presence, as if he’s chasing us.

The original photo, captured by an unknown photographer and retrieved from the Bettmann Archives, shows black children escaping from police forces in July 1964 during a Brooklyn riot sparked by police brutality in Harlem. In my piece, I combined a protest sign, which was common during the civil rights movement, with a stop sign near my home. That the girls have no faces reflects the perspective of cops who viewed them as guilty blacks, regardless of who they were or what they had done. I used a blur filter on the girls to make them appear more spooky and create a movement that mimics them as they run.

The original photo, taken from the Bettmann archives, shows a separate bus in Texas during the Montgomery bus boycott in April 1956. In the background of my play is a protest poster that was common during the recent protests against Black Lives Matter and is on a bridge was placed in a popular park. I picked this picture because of the terrible smile on the white man’s face and then pocketed the heads of the two whites who benefited from a system that favored whites over blacks. The floating heads dehumanize individuals and make them more ghostly. The black on the back of the montage has two heads facing each other and emphasizing that while a white person can easily look away from racism, they cannot.

The original photo from the Chicago Tribune historical archive was taken in 1919 when the state militia were called to the South Side of Chicago during the Chicago race riots to try to stop the violence. It shows a black veteran face to face with a white state militiaman. My piece shows a poster that was used in front of a statue of a soldier during the protests against Black Lives Matter in the summer of 2020. I blurred the two men’s eyes to show they weren’t really looking at each other. Beheading makes them more spooky and emphasizes that past actions and problems still haunt our present.

The original photo by an unknown photographer in an unknown location was taken around 1965 during a rally in support of civil rights leader Wally Nelson after his imprisonment. In my piece I included the image of a Black Lives Matter sign on a hill. I left people’s bodies and faces untouched because I wanted them to appear more human than the people in my other plays. However, to create a spooky feeling, I blurred and enlarged the image of the same two people and placed it behind them. They are put together via the BLM mark to create a kind of arch to create the feeling that there is an overarching idea that everyone needs to step up and work together to make change.

Three questions to consider:

  1. What was the US civil rights movement?
  2. What is the main message that the author conveys with her pictures?
  3. Do you think the Black Lives Matter movement will bring lasting change to the United States?

Lucy Bird is a 17 year old student in her penultimate year at Westover School in the United States. Her favorite subjects are American Social Activism, Environmental Studies, and Photography. She plans to become a humanitarian worker – “because it is my calling to help people!”

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