Ednote: This year marks the 50th anniversary of some of the most important events of the Civil Rights movement. We will be acknowledging events and leaders of our past and present throughout the year.
In our second annual Heroes of the New South Awards, we will honor the next generation of leaders fighting for civil and human rights. Please send us your nomination by February 18 and look for the winners in the September 2013 issue of Southern Living.
Beginning this weekend, Charleston’s Gibbes Museum of Art unveils Witness to History: Civil Rights Era Photographs by James Karales. On the eve of many upcoming Civil Rights anniversaries, this must-see exhibition celebrates the iconic, evocative work of a photographer who stood at the crossroads of documentary and art.
“Working for Look magazine, James Karales had a front-row seat to events that changed American history,” says Sara Arnold, Curator of Collections at the Gibbes. “Not only do his photographs document these significant moments but—with the eye of an artist—Karales was able to capture these moments in a way that communicates the very essence of the event he was witnessing.”
Unlike the many colleagues who focused on the era’s brutal violence, Karales trained his lens on moments that were quietly intense—contemplative, even—yet no less powerful. In his obituary (he died of cancer at 71 in 2002) The New York Times praised “the power and poetry that he packed into a seemingly casual picture.”
You can see that poetry in the photograph above, taken during the Selma March in 1965. The flagbearer, 15-year-old Lewis Marshall, walked 54 miles carrying that flag, from Selma to Montgomery. His friend held the other end, so it wouldn’t drag. The two boys became poster children for the Civil Rights movement, their photographs used on stamps and book covers. When the National Park Service built an interpretive center at the midpoint between Selma and Montgomery, they erected a life-size sculpture of Marshall.
Marshall never saw the photograph until a few years ago—no one had ever told him of it—until the photographer’s widow, Monica Karales, contacted him. “The first thing he said to me was, ‘I have never seen this photograph,’” Mrs. Karales told us by phone. She sent them a copy. “They were moved.”
Marshall had not seen his statue at the Lowndes (County) Interpretive Center either, until a Nebraska photographer named Bill Ganzel, who is interviewing subjects photographed in Look magazine for a project, got in touch with Marshall and took him there in March 2012. Upon seeing the statue of his younger self, “He was overwhelmed with emotion,” Ganzel wrote on his website.
Mrs. Karales, who attended the exhibition opening last night, said she hopes to bring Marshall and his wife, who live in Alabama, to see the photograph on display at the Gibbes.
The exhibition runs January 11 through May 12, 2013. We hope you go see it, too.