published Thursday, August 29th, 2013

'For All the World To See' — Sept. 3-Oct. 19

Bessie Smith Cultural Center exhibit describes how civil-rights movement took hold

Martin Luther King Jr., center left with arms raised, marches along Constitution Avenue with other civil rights protestors carrying placards, from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.
Martin Luther King Jr., center left with arms raised, marches along Constitution Avenue with other civil rights protestors carrying placards, from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

• What: “For All the World To See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights”

• When: Sept. 3-Oct. 19; museum open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: Bessie Smith Cultural Center, 200 E. M.L. King Blvd.

• Admission: Free with museum admission of $7 adults, $3 children 6-12, $5 seniors/students

• Phone: 423-266-8658

• Website: www.bessiesmithcc.org

The fire hoses and snarling dogs turned onto young teenagers by Birmingham, Ala., police officers in 1963 played an unknowing role in the civil-rights movements.

When photos of such incidents found their way into the likes of widely distributed Life, Jet and Ebony magazines, they ignited not only a smoldering black populace but also a largely unaware white populace.

“It’s how African-Americans first represented ourselves to the masses and were able to tell a different story than what was being told before,” says Carmen Davis, curator and program director at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, which will host the exhibit “For All the World To See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights” from Tuesday, Sept. 3, to Saturday, Oct. 19.

The exhibit includes not only magazines from the era but television clips, art posters and historic artifacts.

Its title is taken from a quote by Mamie Till Bradley, whose 14-year-old son, Emmitt Till, was murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi in 1955. When mainstream publications turned down a black-and-white photo of her son’s mutilated corpse, she distributed it to black-owned publications, which published it.

“[We] had averted our eyes for far too long, turning away from the ugly reality facing us as a nation,” Bradley said. “Let the world see what I’ve seen.”

Davis says the sizable National Endowment for the Humanities traveling exhibit arrived in 14 crates and is broader than a simple history of the civil-rights movement.

“Chattanooga needs to take advantage of this while it’s here,” she says. “It’s first-class. We’re excited to have it. It’s so much history in one exhibition.”

In addition to the magazines from the era, the exhibit also includes CBS news footage, clips from television’s “The Ed Sullivan Show,” objects that display U.S. blacks on Aunt Jemima syrup bottles and 1930s produce advertisements, Jackie Robinson baseball memorabilia and 1960s children toys.

The items reach into the 1970s and even include objects relating to groundbreaking black television shows “Julia” and “Good Times.”

Davis is especially looking forward to seeing some of the graphic-art images by Emory Douglas, who worked as the minister of culture for the Black Panther Party from 1967 until it disbanded in the 1980s.

“I’m excited about getting to see some of these,” she says. “I’ve only seen them online.”

If they did nothing else, the images in the exhibit helped connect the dots for many people to the black struggle in general, Davis says.

“Objects … connect us with [other] humans,” she says. “That’s the biggest thing you take. They humanize.”

The exhibit is curated by Maurice Berger, research professor with the Center for Art Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. It was organized by the center and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a Smithsonian Institution museum.

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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