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Ernest C. Withers, Sanitation Workers Assembling for a Solidarity March, Memphis, March 28, 1968, gelatin silver print, 8 1/2 x 14 3/4 inches, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, museum purchase.

The historic American civil rights movement comes to life in For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights, a national touring exhibition that opens at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture on August 31. The exhibition will run through October 20.

Good Times cast, TV Guide, December 14–20, 1974. From the NEH on the Road exhibition For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. 2011. Photo: E. G. Shempf.
Good Times cast, TV Guide, December 14–20, 1974. From the NEH on the Road exhibition For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. 2011. Photo: E. G. Shempf.

The exhibition traces how images and media disseminated to the American public transformed the modern civil rights movement and jolted Americans, both black and white, out of a state of denial or complacency.

This exhibition has been made possible through the NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment of the Humanities. It has been adapted and is being toured by Mid-America Arts Alliance. For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights was organized by The Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution.

Visitors to the immersive display will explore dozens of compelling and persuasive photographs, television clips, and historic objects, including photographs from influential magazines such as Life, Jet, and Ebony; CBS news footage; and TV clips from The Ed Sullivan Show. Also included are civil rights–era objects that exemplify the range of negative and positive imagery—from Aunt Jemima syrup dispensers and 1930s produce advertisements to Jackie Robinson baseball ephemera and 1960s children’s toys with African American portraiture. For All the World to See is not a history of the civil rights movement but an exploration of the vast number of potent images that influenced how Americans perceived race and the struggle for equality.

Medgar Evers Funeral, Life Magazine, June 28, 1963. From the NEH on the Road exhibition For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. 2011. Photo: E. G. Shempf.
Medgar Evers Funeral, Life Magazine, June 28, 1963. From the NEH on the Road exhibition For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. 2011. Photo: E. G. Shempf.

The exhibition takes its title and inspiration from Mamie Till Bradley. Bradley chose to publish the gruesome black-and-white photograph of her 14-year-old son, Emmet Till, after his brutal murder in 1955 by white supremacists in Mississippi. Bradley distributed the photograph to newspapers and magazines, saying, “We had averted our eyes for far too long, turning away from the ugly reality facing us as a nation. Let the world see what I’ve seen.”She believed that Americans would support civil rights if they saw the full brutality of segregation. The photograph of Emmett Till’s body is a part of the exhibition, as it highlights the power of a single image to change history and perception.

McClung Museum Assistant Director and Curator Catherine Shteynberg said the exhibition has a enduring quality: “Though most of the images in the exhibition come from the 1950s through the 1970s, I appreciate how the show continues to resonate, as it illustrates how visual culture has always shaped the struggle for equality. Today, the technology may be different, but the video and photos we make and put online shape our political movements and identity creation more than ever.”

The exhibition has opened the museum to broad collaboration, from a lecture series organized with UT’s Intersectionality Community of Scholars to family programming that features partnerships with university and community organizations.

United We Shall Overcome, bumper sticker, c. 1960s. From the NEH on the Road exhibition For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. 2011. Photo: E. G. Shempf.
United We Shall Overcome, bumper sticker, c. 1960s. From the NEH on the Road exhibition For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. 2011. Photo: E. G. Shempf.

“Our family program will be a celebration of African American culture, civic engagement, self-representation, and history,” said Leslie Chang Jantz, curator for education. “We are truly excited to partner with local members of the community who will share their own experiences of the civil rights movement in Knoxville and, in the process, help us highlight the enduring relevance of the themes explored in our exhibition.”

Exhibition programming will include a lecture series, Sights of Power: Race and Visual Culture, featuring the following talks:

  • Lindsey Stewart, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Memphis, “Black Southern Feminism in Philosophy,” Tuesday, September 4, 5:30–7 p.m.
  • Sheila Pree Bright, award-winning photographer, Thursday, September 13, 5:30–7 p.m.
  • Herman Gray, professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Thursday, October 18, 5:30–7 p.m.

The museum will also have free family and community programming focused on emotions, identity, and the civil rights movement:

  • “Emotion Commotion,” a free stroller tour, Monday, September 17, 10 a.m. Register online.
  • “Civil Rights: The Journey Continues,” Saturday, September 29, 1–4 p.m.

The museum will host an exhibition preview and reception for museum members.

More information about the exhibition and related programming is available at the McClung website.

The local showing of the exhibition is sponsored by UT’s Ready for the World initiative and the Mildred Haines and William Elijah Morris Lecture Endowment, with additional support from Knox County, the City of Knoxville, and the Arts and Heritage Fund.

The McClung Museum is located at 1327 Circle Park Drive. Museum admission is free, and the museum’s hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Groups can schedule tours by calling 865-974-2144or emailing museum@utk.edu.

On weekdays, free two-hour museum parking passes are available upon request from the parking information booth at the entrance to Circle Park Drive. Free parking is available on Circle Park Drive on a first-come, first-served basis on weekends. Free public transportation to the museum is also available Monday through Saturday on the Knoxville Trolley Orange Line.

For more information about collections and exhibits, visit the McClung Museum website.

CONTACT:

Zack Plaster (865-974-2144, zack@utk.edu)

Catherine Shteynberg (865-974-6921cshteynb@utk.edu)