The civil rights movement was full of dynamic and evocative images. Today, even many of us born after its iconic moments were captured on film can describe
"For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights" is the work of the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland,
"For so many decades," says Mr. Berger, a cultural historian and research professor at UMBC, "The eye was on the protest. The eye was on the speech." But after a career spent examining a broad range of visual media, he says, "I started to understand that it wasn't so much how images documented the movement. It was the almost uncannily brilliant ability of both leaders in the movement and also the rank and file folks ... figuring out how images could actually serve as agents of change" that was key.
Mr. Berger is uniquely qualified to lead people through this type of historical reexamination. He is critical of labels but identifies himself, among many other things, as Jewish and gay and counts the things he saw growing up among African-American children in a housing project on
Viewers travel four decades, from stereotyped representations of African-Americans in the 1930s to the Black Arts Movement of the 1970s. One of the first sounds you hear is
Down the hall, we see that by March 1963, Time magazine has put Cassius Clay on its cover. Having a black face prominently displayed on a major American news publication was a powerful statement. But this was a highly selective representation of the boxer, who was drawn (not photographed) to look like an angel for a mainstream audience. One year later, he changed his name to
Opposite the Time cover, in a section on the black press, pioneering photographer
"For All the World to See" is an immersive experience. Sounds from video clips pull you along, subtly influencing where among the strategically positioned books, buttons, posters and other artifacts you are compelled to stop and think. I found myself lingering near a picture of
This was hard to take in, but when I did, I was ready. And that was the point. "Every time I do a show," says Mr. Berger, "I extend my hand to each and every [viewer] and say, I'll take your hand and help you walk through this."
"For all the World to See" runs at UMBC through March 10.
Lionel Foster is a freelance writer from Baltimore. His column appears Fridays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @LionelBMD.