Birmingham News Publishes Unseen Civil Rights Photos
The Birmingham News has published some historic pictures from the civil rights era that had been hidden in the vaults by an editor who wanted to avoid adding to the racial turmoil.
Dozens of never before released photos from the civil rights era came to light this weekend after an intern discovered them buried in an equipment closet at the Birmingham News. The photos had been in a box marked: “Keep. Do Not Sell.” But at the time they were taken, the newspaper didn’t want to draw attention to the racial discord of the 1950s and 1960s, news photographers from the period said. “The editors thought if you didn’t publish it, much of this would go away,” said Ed Jones, 81, a photographer at The News from 1942 to 1987. “Associated Press kept on wanting pictures, and The News would be slow on letting them have them, so they flooded the town with photographers.”
On Sunday, the photos finally went to print in a special eight-page section called “Unseen. Unforgotten.” Others are on the newspaper’s Web site at http://www.al.com/unseen .
Several photos vividly show the segregation in the South at the time, including the disparity among school buildings and the different lines for blacks and whites, even at the jail as the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth posts bail after an arrest.
Others show confrontations: a police officer shoving a demonstrator, black children hit with the spray of a firehose, crowds heckling demonstrators on their knees, Freedom Riders being arrested, and whites throwing bricks at cars and blocking blacks from entering “whites-only” areas.
One photo shows a Ku Klux Klan rally with men wearing hoods but their faces uncovered. Others show National Guardsmen with their guns drawn, protecting a bus in one and rounding up rioters protesting a black student’s enrollment at the University of Mississippi.
The story and accompanying photos are available at a special section on the News‘ site, “Unforseen. Unforgotten.”
The lead story is entitled, “From negatives to positives.”
Minutes after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed on Sept. 15, 1963, Tom Self was on the scene taking pictures. The photographs, published in The Birmingham News, were among hundreds that appeared in print during the civil rights struggle in Alabama. Self, who retired as chief photographer in 1998, remembers many of those images.
He also recalls many not published. One is a picture from inside the Sixteenth Street church moments after explosives blew the face of Jesus Christ from a stained-glass window and killed four little girls. “I shot a picture of Jesus, and everything was intact except his face; his face was blown out,” Self remembered. “It was an eerie feeling to look up there and see the whole frame of the window and just the face was gone.”
Hundreds of photos from that era were lost, sold, stolen or stored in archives. Some of those pictures appear today for the first time in the newspaper, in an eight-page special section titled “Unseen. Unforgotten.
Some sample photos below:
The whole thing, as it appeared in the print edition, is available in PDF format:
All of those photos are from before I was born, although some of them just barely. By the time I was in elementary school in Houston in 1972–let alone in high school in Alabama in 1980–the world depicted in those pictures seemed centuries past.