LOS ANGELES, CA.-
The history of the civil rights movement is commonly illustrated with well-known photographs from Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma -- leaving the visual story of the movement outside the South remaining to be told. In North of Dixie: Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South
, author and historian Mark Speltz shines a light past the most iconic photographs of the era to focus on images of everyday activists who led grassroots campaigns to protest racial discrimination in jobs, housing, education, and policy brutality. These hard fought battles took place in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, among many other American cities north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
For this powerful and compelling volume, Speltz carefully selected one hundred photographs, some never-before-seen or published, taken between 1938 and 1975 in more than twenty-five cities in the Northeast, Midwest and West by photojournalists, artists, and activists that include Bob Adelman, Ruth-Marion Baruch, Charles Brittin, Diana Davies, Jack Delano, Leonard Freed, Don Hogan Charles, Gordon Parks, Art Shay, Morgan and Marvin Smith, and Maria Varela. Together, these photographs offer a broader and more complex view of the American civil rights movement than is usually presented by the media.
North of Dixie is divided into four chapters each leading with a text by Speltz followed by the plate section. Northern Underexposure (Chapter 1) addresses national injustices against African Americans and the media's tendency to ignore local campaigns in the North demanding rights and equality in favor of the more shocking imagery of protesters in the South being attacked with fire hoses and confronted by snarling dogs. The Battle for Self-Representation (Chapter 2) explores how activist photographers played an integral role in shaping the narrative of the quest for racial justice. Black Power and Beyond (Chapter 3) discusses the emergence of many African-American-led organizations that used photography to establish bold and dynamic public images that almost five decades later still symbolize for many Americans the essence of the "Black Power" movement.
In the book's final chapter, Surveillance and Represssion, Speltz considers the camera as a tool that served both those in support of the movement and against it. Photographs inspired activists, galvanized public support, and implored local and national politicians to act, but they also provided means of surveillance and repression used by the FBI and police departments nationwide against movement participants.
In the book's epilogue, Speltz connects earlier photographs of the civil rights movement with the cell phone imagery that documents the black struggle of today. He writes, "Their recurring themes should remind us that racism and concerted efforts to roll back hard-won civil rights gains persist. The ongoing and constantly evolving struggle against police brutality and militarism, entrenched poverty, institutionalized racism, and everyday micro aggressions suggests that photographs will continue to play a crucial role in documenting the struggle and advancing the much-needed dialogue around it."
Two eerily similar photographs published together on page 16-one of armed National Guard soldiers in Newark in 1967; the other of hyper-militarized police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014-illustrate how in many respects little has changed. North of Dixie concerns itself with this uneasy visual history of civil rights in America. As Deborah Willis notes in her powerful preface, "Through these photographers' lenses and Mark Speltz's words we see the people who were determined to make their mark on America-by either keeping it segregated or changing it forever."
North of Dixie brings to light numerous lesser-known images and illuminates the story of the civil rights movement in the American North and West. This remarkable book reveals the power of photography to preserve historical memory, impact social consciousness, and stimulate critical dialogue among everyone interested in social justice, human rights, American history, the African American civil rights movement, Black studies, and photojournalism.
"Cast by the media at the time as sporadic and less significant than the heroic, nonviolent protests in the South, the local activism that took place in the North, West, and Midwest is all but absent in the way we characterize, teach, and remember the civil rights era. In response, this book seeks to recast the visual narrative of the era by bringing the broad, nationwide struggle for black freedom into sharper view."-- Mark Speltz
Mark Speltz is an author and historian who writes about civil rights photography, vernacular architecture, and Wisconsin culture and history. He is currently a senior historian at American Girl in Madison, Wisconsin.
Deborah Willis is chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She has been the recipient of Guggenheim, Fletcher, and MacArthur fellowships and was named one of the "100 Most Important People in Photography" by American Photography magazine.