The H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center (AACC) celebrates its 50th anniversary with an exhibition titled “Celebrating 50 Years of Service and Activism” at the William Benton Museum of Art. The exhibition consists of a small series of black and white photography taken during the civil rights era by Danny Lyon.
The photos depict Lyon’s coverage of local civil rights work in the South. “Lyon’s photographs document signal events of the civil rights movement, such as the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama,” according to the Benton. “They also show lesser-known incidents, like the protest in Cairo, which fundamentally impacted local communities, even though they did not make the national news.”
Some of his photos feature well-known civil rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. just before giving a speech, as well as Ralph Abernathy and John Lewis.
Some of Lyon’s own words and the printed lyrics of “We Shall Overcome” are included alongside Lyon’s photography.
Much of the exhibition also focuses on the local protests organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC pronounced “SNICK”) where Lyon worked as a staff photographer from 1962 to 1964.
His photos also depict a demonstration at an all-white swimming pool, an overflowing SNCC meeting, Bob Dylan playing guitar behind the SNCC office and people voting for the first time.
Some of the most striking photos are not of famous activists or impactful protests, but of unpopulated landscapes. One photo depicts two segregated water fountains next to each other. Another depicts the shattered stained glass window of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama after the bombing and the subsequent funeral at which Dr. King spoke.
Yet another shows a cracked country road with long shadowy stripes rolling over the hills as the road fades into the horizon. The photo is titled “The Road to Yazoo City [Mississippi].” I wondered what its importance in the series was, as it was placed just after photos of the funeral choir and a few photos before a photo of African Americans voting for the first time.
With just a few days to go until midterm elections, I couldn’t help but see it as a reminder of the long, worn road paved by the civil rights movement: of how far we’ve come and how far we still have left to go.
The exhibit will be on view in the balcony of the Benton Museum until December 16.
Alexis Taylor is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.