A little boy holding an American flag sits with a group of protesters on the front steps of the Mississippi governor’s mansion. The cluster of women and children hold a sign that reads “No More Police Brutality.”
A series of black and white photographs recorded what happened next on that day in 1965 — police officers surrounded the group, and one wrestled away the crying boy’s flag.
As heart-wrenching as it is profoundly symbolic, the sequence captures just one of many tragic, moving and uplifting moments chronicled in “This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement,” on display at the Taubman Museum of Art until Jan. 18.
Focused on activism in Mississippi and Alabama from 1963 to 1966, the show depicts acts of bravery in pursuit of equal rights, as well as acts of brutal retaliation from opponents. In one image, two black men sign up to vote despite a sign declaring the names of all registrants will by law be published for two weeks in newspapers. In another, a black college student continues on the “March Against Fear” he started — even after being shot. In others, a white supporter of the civil rights movement recuperates, covered in blood after a beating, and black activists sing together as they march.
“This is a large endeavor,” said Amy Moorefield, the museum’s deputy director of exhibitions. “This is like a living textbook.”
“This Light of Ours” compiles 157 images taken by nine photographers who actively took part in civil rights movement protests. Seven were members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee founded in 1960 in North Carolina by college students who organized sit-ins. The photographs taken from inside the movement offer glimpses into important but lesser-known aspects of the struggle.
The Taubman is also hosting a companion exhibition, “A Mosaic of Memories: Recalling Local Voices of the Movement.” Created in collaboration with Roanoke College, the exhibit shares the memories of four black Southwest Virginia residents who lived through the civil rights movement. The museum will present a related talk Thursday at 7 p.m.