Caputring the heroes of the civil rights movement

A whole century had passed since the American civil war of the 1860s and the African American community was still undergoing racial segregation, violence and oppression, notably in the southern part of the United States. The 1960s era was a defining period for the civil rights movement which was marked by important events, including strikes and protests.

Sanitation workers hold signs « I am a man » in a strike held in Memphis, Tennessee, 1968. Photograph: Ernest Withers/c/o Atlas Gallery

In one of the most famous pictures of the civil rights movement, sanitation workers go on strike and hold signs which read « I am a man ». All lined up like soldiers, they face the camera, posing for it. In an almost dizzying way, the word « man » fades away on the multiple signs held up by the dark-suited men. This event takes place in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968, shortly before the end of the movement. Within the context of economic oppression against the black community, sanitation employees decided to protest against the harsh conditions they worked under following the death of two black men at work. The photographer, Ernest Withers was part of the organization of the march: « I just had to be there, » he said.

A black man wearing a hat exits a door on top of which reads « white men only ». Photograph: Bob Adelman/c/o Atlas Gallery

Public toilets were not shared by white and black Americans, and it was strictly forbidden for black people to use the white domain. On this picture taken in Louisiana in 1964, a black man exits a door above which it says « white men only ». Public facilities and governmental services were divided into two parts: while some were dedicated for « white only », others were for « black only ». The latter were of very bad quality compared to the former. By defying the system, photographer Bob Adelman reveals the racist segregation, « an organized system of terror that was reinforced by the Klan or leader of communities, » which the black people lived in and uses photography as a way to condemn these practices.

A black man and a white woman at a party in Notting Hill posing for the camera. Photograph: Charlie Phillips, c/o Nicky Akehurst/c/o Atlas Gallery

On the other side of the world, another photographer challenges the stereotypes that black people were subject to. His name is Charlie Philipps and he takes pictures of black and white Londoners dancing, laughing, and drinking together. This picture depicts a young black man wearing a suit putting his arm around a white woman with a white sweater. Their eyes pierce through the lens, as if they aren’t afraid of anyone or anything. Their look also conveys innocence and ease. This was taken in 1967 at a party in Notting Hill and is one of the most famous photographs of Charlie Philipps.

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