PHOTO HISTORY: AFRO-AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHERS IN THE STRUGGLE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
The story is inextricably linked with visualization. If you trace the history of the representation of black people in American culture since the appearance of photography, you can see two trends: on the one hand, distortion of reality and obedience to stereotypes, on the other – an attempt to present African Americans in a different light, to make them more intimate and understandable to white society.
Despite the fact that slavery in the United States was abolished in 1865, right up to the middle of the 20th century, racial segregation was present everywhere in the southern states. The stereotypes about the black population that existed in American society exacerbated the situation, stirring up hostility towards “former slaves”. These stereotypes arose in the days of colonial America, and with the development of photography, they became firmly rooted in the public consciousness.
Traditionally, blacks were portrayed as jesters, criminals or savages. In honor of one of the theatrical characters of the XIX century, Jim Crow, later even racial segregation laws were announced in some US states. Jim Crow was a caricature of an awkward, stupid, and roguish slave. This name actually became the derogatory name of blacks. The character not only brought fame to its creator Thomas Ries, who toured with a dance and musical number in the country, but also added to the popularity of the minstrel show – so theatrical performances of the white actors made up as Negroes were called. With the invention and distribution of photographs, such caricature images of the black population were encountered many times more often than reliable snapshots of African American everyday life.
Another stereotype, which is reflected in the photographs, is the love of blacks for watermelons. The image of afro-americans smiling in their mouths, especially children, with a piece of watermelon in their hands seemed to hint that they could not even dream of a better life.
It must be said that in contrast to such images, others appeared. Frédéric Douglas, who had escaped from slavery and became the leader of the abolitionist movement, used photography to fight against slavery and racism. He became the most photographed American of the XIX century. Douglas never specifically smiled in the pictures: he did not want the picture to resemble a caricature of happy slaves. As a rule, he looked straight into the camera, meeting the viewer with a stern look.
A brilliant speaker and publicist, Douglas denied the widespread view of the lack of black intelligence. African Americans loved to represent the victims of their own ignorance. In the images, they often resembled beasts more than people. In order to show the danger that these depraved and criminal people concealed in themselves, their physiological defects, including their physiological defects, were also used.
One of the worst pages in American photography is the fashion for snapshots of lynch victims, where charred, mutilated, corpses hung on a rope, surrounded by white people. Many people did not see such hideous crimes in such photos, these pictures were perceived more as glorification of justice. For several years, postcards with such images were generally sold as souvenirs.
However, there was another way of photography, far from stereotypes and racist prejudices. He played a particularly important role in the 1950s and 1960s during the rise of the civil rights movement for blacks.
Photographers revealed a very different side of life for African Americans. With their works, they reproduced the social history of the black population, taking pictures of weddings, church life, family gatherings, and participation in the struggle for civil rights. Of course, in the XIX and early XX century, some photographers also sought to faithfully depict African Americans, rather than caricature shots that discriminated against the black population (it should be called at least James Presley Ball or the Goodridge Brothers). But it was precisely in the middle of the 20th century that African-American photography turned out to be especially in demand.
R.S. Hickman and Calvin Littlejohn are some of the most famous African American photojournalists who have worked in the field and covered the daily life of the black population.
Don Carleton, executive director of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas (this is where the photo archives of both authors are kept) said about the legacy of Hickman and Littlejohn: “Their photos take people and the world in which they lived from the shadow of memories and the past” .
Group portrait wedding reception in Fort Worth, Littlejohn
In the era of the Jim Crow Laws, when newspapers did not publish photographs of black citizens, and white photographers filmed African Americans only in cases of crime, Hickman documented the life of the African American community of Dallas, Little Johns – Fort Worth.