Chrysler Museum of Art's New Exhibit a Haunting and Educational Echo of the Past

A black woman runs, her purse falling into the street as a white man with a baseball bat tries to assault her. Hundreds march with signs across their chests, reading in big bold letters “UNION JUSTICE NOW!”  and “HONOR KING: END RACISM!” An African-American woman glares at the camera in protest as she stands outside a swimming pool that has been changed from public to private in order to continue to keep blacks out. These and many more images are on display at the Chrysler Museum of Arts’ “Women and the Civil Rights Movement” exhibit.

The exhibit is  arranged roughly chronologically from the 1930’s to 1986. The pictures and their captions depict the protests, violence, tragedy, and injustices of and related to the Civil Rights Movement, with emphasis given to the participation and impact of women during the time period.

The exhibit forms a stark contrast with the surrounding area, the black and white photographs clashing with the colorful, more abstract pieces in the adjacent “Modern & Contemporary Art” exhibit. The somber colors are befitting to the overall tone of the exhibit as Joan and Macon Brock Curator Alex Mann described it.

“These are hard to look at. Some of these, I think, are devastatingly tragic events,” he said of the exhibit.

The exhibit highlights both the racial and gender inequality endemic of the time. Mann said how women were often marginalized during the Civil Rights movement,

“This was a time period in which economic opportunities were limited for women.”  He also said the Feminist Movement of the 70’s was an extension of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Mann also  said that recent events involving issues of equality helped to spur the exhibit and encouraged people to use the exhibit as an opportunity and motivation to learn more. The most recent photo, taken in June 14, 1986,  is titled “Three Placards (Elijah Muhammad, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X)” and it depicts a group of African-Americans standing on a fence holding large images of civil rights leaders Elijah Muhammad, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X.

“1986 is the last photo in the show but by no means the end of the story,” Mann said.

Mann urged visitors of the exhibit to go beyond the captions and to educate themselves on the topic.

“What you see in these labels is just the beginning of the story, it’s an learn.”

Mann believes that progress can always be made and that people should use the past to improve the present.

“There’s always room for improvement in our society,” and that he “would always like for us to always find ways to look back at the past and to learn from it.”

No photo better reinforces the idea that the issues and lessons of the past are applicable to the present than a photo from December 1963 depicting a then 23-year-old John Lewis participating in a sit-in protest at the whites-only restaurant the Toddle House. Lewis, now the U.S. representative of Georgia’s 5th congressional district and the dean of Georgia’s congressional delegation, recently held a sit-in on the House floor calling for gun control legislation.

The exhibit opened officially June 14 and will run through the summer until October 30.  Admission into the Chrysler Museum of Art is free.