Cox also recalls other, less well-known episodes, such as the May 1961 attack on a bus of Freedom Riders near Anniston, Alabama, a drab town--I have driven through it--at the foot of the Talladega Mountains. As Cox recounts, a bus transporting fourteen Freedom Riders on the highway between Atlanta and Birmingham was greeted by a mob of Klansmen. It was pursued to the highway and then firebombed. The choking passengers were beaten as they escaped from the burning vehicle; the local hospital refused them treatment. This gruesome affair was recorded in a sequence of gelatin-silver prints shot by the intrepid photojournalist Joseph Postiglione. These and other images of violence discussed by Cox provide a healthy antidote to '60s nostalgia, the tendency to view the era through the rose-tinted glasses of the miniseries and movie musical. As Lawson suggests, the heroic acts of the time often came at considerable personal cost.
Road to Freedom also reminds us that photographs were essential to the movement's success. Indeed, their transmission in the media led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In other words, these pictures not only recorded the events they depict; they were instrumental in inventing this history that they seem merely to record. Often consciously so: The famous photograph of Rosa Parks on the bus, we learn, is not in fact a documentation of her act of disobedience. The image was posed, a reconstruction of an event that had already occurred. (No wonder she sits alone. In the original incident, the bus driver, in order to seat an extra white passenger on the crowded bus, asked Parks to relinquish her "black" seat.) The future '60s--a '60s that haunts and defines the contemporary, that stands as a marker of where we have been and where we are now--was already embedded in these acts of representation.
JAMES MEYER IS A CONTRIBUTING EDITOR OF ARTFORUM.
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|Title Annotation:||Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement 1956-1968|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2008|
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