Respect Existence or Expect Resistance: Civil Rights Era Photographs from the Collection
March 11 – July 30, 2017
Drawn from the Addison’s permanent collection, the 38 photographs assembled here not only bear witness to a seminal period in American history but also attest to the important role photography played in the Civil Rights movement. Activists and journalists on both sides of the struggle realized early on the power of images to awaken public outrage, raise awareness, and elicit support. Although the roots of the movement stretched back centuries, images of the African American fight for equality gained far greater exposure in the 1950s and 60s than in previous decades as pictures of white aggression, black suffering, police brutality, freedom marches, sit-ins, and funerals, were widely broadcast on TV and published in books, magazines, newspapers, and posters. The potency of these images forced Americans to see the brutal realities of segregated America and motivated many to act.
In addition to influencing activists in the 1960s and 70s, such as those protesting for women’s rights or against the Vietnam War, the tenacity and courage of Civil Rights leaders and movement members continue to inspire those advocating for social justice today. It is difficult to consider these images without thinking about the protests and demands for equality occurring across the United States today. Certainly the slogan “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance” which is currently being used on protest signs and T-shirts, embodies the spirit and message of the Civil Rights movement. Describing the resonance and lasting legacy of Civil Rights era photographs, author and photographer Steven Kasher has written: “They are an essential part of our vision of a true democracy. They are documents that can inspire us to find new ways out of our current morass. We must look at these pictures and feel embarrassment and fear and rage. We must look them and feel hope. We must look at them to learn new ways to transform our nation."