TOLEDO, OHIO.- For every familiar photograph of a pivotal moment in America’s history, there was a photographer acting as an unflinching witness for the rest of the country and future generations. During the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Ernest C. Withers became one of the most famous of these visual storytellers. In celebration of the triumphant struggle of the Civil Rights Movement, the Toledo Museum of Art opens the new exhibition entitled Picturing Freedom: Photographs from the American Civil Rights Movement. This is the Museum’s first exhibition of the 10 black-and-white photographs that make up Withers’s portfolio entitled I Am A Man, which TMA acquired in 2003.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Withers was a freelance photographer who sold his photographs to African-American newspapers in the South for $6 to $10 each. However, his close friendships with Civil Rights icons Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rev. Ralph Abernathy gave Withers a unique vantage point to the conflict of the era—one that resonates with diverse audiences decades later.
Highlights of this focused exhibition include Withers’s photograph of Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy on the first desegregated bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama, and an image of police escorting the “Little Rock Nine” to their first day in a desegregated Arkansas public school. Perhaps the most powerful captured moment depicts the anguished face of Dr. King as he is confronted by police at the funeral of assassinated Civil Rights advocate Medgar Evers. Together, the photographs in Picturing Freedom: Photographs from the Civil Rights Movement invite visitors from all walks of life to explore the faces, places, and events of one of the most controversial periods in the history of our country, as well as to celebrate the progress made due to the brave sacrifices of the people pictured in Withers’s photographs.