In the summer of 1962, Congressman John Lewis was a 22-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The white American photographer Danny Lyon hitched a ride to Cairo, Illinois to hear Lewis address a demonstration about the disgraces of Jim Crow law. Lewis, dressed in dark dress pants and a white cotton dress shirt, dropped to a knee and bowed his head. The 20 year-old Lyon captured the scene of Lewis flanked by a woman and a child in deep prayer in a black and white photograph. A year later, Lyon joined SNCC as their first staff photographer, traveling through the South documenting sit-ins, demonstrations for voting rights, white violence, black spiritual resistance, and creating agitprop from his pictures.
In a new exhibition titled Danny Lyon at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, the artist is presenting pictures from his early 60s series, The Southern Civil Rights Movement. The images and stories behind them tell of how young black and white students banded together, despite their youth and racial differences, to challenge the status quo to combat racism. The mix of posters and photographs in the exhibition, document the way freedom was won by a gradual expression of non-violent protests despite the frequent use of violence by local police patrols and white vigilantees across the South.
Lyon’s earliest image is Eddie Brown is arrested in Albany, Georgia 1962, of the protestor being carried off to jail by two white cops. In Alabama Highway Patrol, Outside the Bombed 16th Street Baptist Church, September 12, 1963, four patrolmen stand on the street in the aftermath of the basement bombing of the Birmingham Church that killed four little girls. And there’s the Civil Rights photographer's pictures that show Taylor Washington being dragged by the neck from a lunch counter in Atlanta followed by a poster of a portrait of a patrol officer that asks: “Is He Protecting You?”
Danny Lyon continues through February 5 at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. Click here for more information.