BY STAFF | THE NEW YORK TIMES
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders relied on the power of photographs to persuade and to motivate. For many white Americans outside the South, it was easy to be unaware — or ignore outright — the segregation of the Jim Crow era.
But images of the everyday inequalities as well as the barbaric violence inflicted against children and peaceful protesters forced all Americans to notice, and to choose sides.
“The world seldom believes the horror stories of history until they are documented via the mass media,” Dr. King wrote in a letter to the novelist Harold Courlander in 1961.
Leaders like Sojourner Truth and Malcolm X embraced the photograph’s potential as evidence and its ability to combat stereotypes. The camera was the “weapon of choice” for Gordon Parks, the first African-American staff photographer for Life magazine. Maurice Berger writes our Race Stories series for the Lens blog and often looks at the effects of photography on the lives of African-Americans and how they are represented in visual news media. For Dr. King’s birthday, we went into our archives and selected eight of his previous “Race Stories” to share with you.
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Gordon Parks (November 30, 1912 – March 7, 2006), born into rural poverty, was a noted African-American photographer, musician, writer and film director, who became prominent in U.S. documentary photojournalism in the 1940s through 1970s—particularly in issues of civil rights, poverty and African-Americans—and in glamour photography. As the first famous pioneer among black filmmakers, he was first African-American to produce and direct major motion pictures—developing films relating the experience of slaves and struggling black Americans, and creating the “blaxploitation” genre. He is best remembered for his iconic photos of poor Americans during the 1940s (taken for a federal government project), for his photographic essays for Life magazine, and as the director of the 1971 film Shaft. Parks also was an author, poet and composer. Wikipedia
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