Books

Rare Photographs of the US Civil Rights Struggle Beyond the South

A new book by Mark Speltz brings together over 100 rarely or never-before-published photographs from the Civil Rights era that show its grassroots actions beyond the South.

North of Dixie
Charles Brittin, “Activists picketing at a demonstration for housing equality while uniformed American Nazi Party members counterprotest in the background with signs displaying anti-integration slogans and racist epithets” (near Los Angeles, 1963) (courtesy Getty Research Institute)

To create North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South, historian and author Mark Speltz delved into American newspaper morgues and institutional archives to retrieve over 100 rarely published or unseen photographs documenting grassroots Civil Rights actions above and west of the Mason–Dixon line.

North of Dixie
Cover of North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South (courtesy Getty Publications)

Rather than the familiar images of brutality in Selma from March of 1965, Speltz found Charles Brittin’s dramatic photographs of a protest reacting to that violence in Los Angeles, where a tight focus shows black women being violently removed by white hands from the demonstration. And to contextualize the countrywide battle against segregation, beyond the famous 1957 integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, he included Julian C. Wilson’s 1964 shot of activists sprawled in the dirt of a building site, the huge construction shovel looming over them, as they attempt to halt a new school that would support segregation in Cleveland. Each of these broadens our collective memory of Civil Rights activism.

“America’s need to reckon with its past knows no boundaries; racial injustice, growing out of the nation’s history of slavery, has been a widespread problem from the beginning, and this book offers visual evidence of its magnitude and persistence,” writes Speltz in North of Dixie. “The intent in compiling these images has been to inspire new conversations about the black freedom struggle that remains manifestly relevant today, more than a half century after passage of the landmark civil rights legislation that was intended to address and perhaps alleviate the nation’s racial issues.”

North of Dixie
Charles Brittin, “Protesters being physically removed during a demonstration against the shocking violence in Selma in March 1965” (Los Angeles, March 10, 1965) (courtesy Getty Research Institute)
North of Dixie
Charles Brittin, “Protesters being physically removed during a demonstration against the shocking violence in Selma in March 1965” (Los Angeles, March 10, 1965) (courtesy Getty Research Institute)

The book was published in November by the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Getty Publications. Although Speltz spends time in its pages connecting these demonstrations to contemporary movements like Black Lives Matter, it also feels incredibly relevant in reflecting on the white nationalist support for President-elect Donald Trump.

The rise in hate crimes across the country, based on FBI statistics, particularly those targeting Muslims, underlines that bigotry still seethes through the United States. In one of North of Dixie’s more haunting photographs (shown at the top of this post), a line of activists are picketing for housing equality near Los Angeles in 1963, and, just to the left, are members of the American Nazi Party marching up with their own signs blaring racist epithets.

North of Dixie
Unknown photographer, “Flag flying outside the offices of the NAACP on Fifth Avenue, announcing that another lynching had taken place in America” (New York City, 1936) (courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Visual Materials from the NAACP Records)
Declan Haun, "A young woman raising her fist in a show of pride and determination during an open-housing march through the streets of Chicago" (Chicago, 1966) (courtesy Chicago History Museum)
Declan Haun, “A young woman raising her fist in a show of pride and determination during an open-housing march through the streets of Chicago” (Chicago, 1966) (courtesy Chicago History Museum)

“The less-familiar photographs on these pages offer a perspective on the hard-fought, continuing battle for racial justice that has been neither simple nor linear but, rather, composed of a complex, interrelated set of issues and campaigns,” Speltz writes. “By widening our scope to see beyond the well-documented 1955–65 efforts and the most charismatic civil rights leaders, these photographs reveal how ordinary citizens and dedicated activists vigorously fought for racial equity in all its forms from the 1930s into the 1970s.”

Whether a well-dressed woman quietly blocking trucks to protest unequal hiring at a construction site in Brooklyn in 1963, young activists having a sit-in (where they stand as management took the seats away) at a segregated Oklahoma City lunch counter in 1958, or a screaming mob in 1963 Philadelphia threatening a black family that had moved into an all-white development, the photographs highlight overlooked Civil Rights stories. Their subjects, often nameless, often demonstrating in the supposedly more progressive North, show both the struggle and importance of public protest, especially as issues like police surveillance, housing, and school equality remain present. And right now, when the President-elect is tweeting that protests against him are “unfair,” that historical visibility is vital.

Leonard Freed, "Demonstrators sitting with signs and intentionally blocking traffic during protest on car-lined thoroughfare" (Brooklyn, New York, 1963) (courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, © Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos)
Leonard Freed, “Demonstrators sitting with signs and intentionally blocking traffic during protest on car-lined thoroughfare” (Brooklyn, New York, 1963) (courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, © Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos)
Pages from North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
North of Dixie
Unknown photographer, “Mob shouting obscenities, threatening a young black family as they move into an all-white development outside Philadelphia just two days after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The family spent their first night in the cellar and, after two years of relentless attacks, moved out of the neighborhood” (Folcroft, Pennsylvania, August 30, 1963) (courtesy Library of Congress)
Pages from North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
North of Dixie
Unknown photographer, “Members of the St. Louis Branch of the NAACP calling for victory at home and abroad and an end to racial violence” (St. Louis, early 1940s) (courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Visual Materials from the NAACP Records)
Pages from North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
North of Dixie
Cox Studio, “San Francisco NAACP members during a ‘Don’t Ride’ campaign urging riders to boycott Yellow Cab and help stop hiring discrimination” (San Francisco, 1955) (courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Visual Materials from the NAACP Records)
North of Dixie
Bob Adelman, “Boy picketing outside a local school, one of the many children from coast to coast who would play a critical role during the civil rights era to advance the struggle for racial justice” (New Jersey, 1962) (courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum, © Bob Adelman / Magnum Photos)
North of Dixie
Charles Brittin, “News media interviewing CORE activists waging a sit-in and hunger strike outside the Los Angeles Board of Education offices to raise awareness of segregation and inequality in the public schools” (Los Angeles, September 1963) (courtesy Getty Research Institute)
North of Dixie
Unknown photographer, “Armed members of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party standing on the state capitol steps protesting a proposed law limiting the ability to carry firearms in a ‘manner manifesting an intent to intimidate others'” (Olympia, Washington, February 1969) (courtesy Washington State Archives)

North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South by Mark Speltz is out this month from Getty Publications.

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