News Column

Museum's photo exhibit honors 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer

July 28, 2014

By Alison Gowans, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

July 28--It has been 50 years since "Freedom Summer," when hundreds of college students from throughout the northern United States joined local activists in Mississippi to register African-Americans to vote.

Photographer Matt Herron documented that often violent summer, covering the Civil Rights struggle for publications including Life, Look, Time, Newsweek and the Saturday Evening Post.

He also provided photos to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, one of the organizing bodies behind Freedom Summer. In 1965, Herron won the World Press Photo Contest for a photograph of a Mississippi highway patrolman attacking a 5-year-old black child.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, an exhibit of Herron's photos will be on display at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum in West Branch through Sept. 21.

"The best part of this exhibit is to see the power of the Civil Rights movement. It's powerful to see people marching for their rights," said museum education specialist Elizabeth Dinschel. "This wasn't that long ago."

Herron, who founded and directed the Southern Documentary Project, a team of six photographers who attempted to document the process of social change in the South, will give a public talk at the museum Aug. 9. He will discuss his experiences working as an activist, documentarian and photojournalist. He also will talk about his new book, "Mississippi Eyes," which focuses on the work of the documentary team.

"I thought of myself as wearing three hats," Herron said. "I was just beginning my career as a photojournalist, and I also went south with the intention of aiding the Civil Rights movement."

While in Iowa, Herron also will host a workshop for local teachers, which he said will focus on the power of photography as a tool for social action. Author Elizabeth Partridge also will participate in the workshop. Partridge is the author of more than a dozen books, including "Marching to Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don't You Grow Weary," as well as a biography of acclaimed photo documentarian Dorothea Lange, who captured powerful images of the Great Depression. Partridge also will speak at the Herbert Hoover Museum on Aug. 9, though not at the same time as Herron.

Asked what he wants people to take away from his photos, Herron said he wants viewers to appreciate how hard people fought for their rights, and that the fight for equality isn't over.

"Important social change doesn't come from politicians. It comes from grass roots movements of people," he said. "None of us knew if we would be successful. We didn't have money or political backing in the beginning, but we had a strong social movement of people who were willing to risk jail or worse."


WHAT: Matt Herron presentation

WHERE: Hoover Auditorium, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum, 210 Parkside Dr., West Branch

WHEN: Aug. 9; Matt Herron will speak at 11 a.m.

COST: Included in $3 to $6 admission to the museum


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Source: Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA)

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