Photographing History (More Selma)


Via the LATSelma photographer captured history on ‘Bloody Sunday’.

The photos and descriptions are worth a look.

The following passage struck me:

“The world doesn’t know this happened because you didn’t photograph it,” King told Life magazine’s Flip Schulke, according to “The Race Beat,” a history of media coverage of the civil rights movement. “I’m not being cold-blooded about it, but it is so much more important for you to take a picture of us getting beaten up than for you to be another person joining in the fray.”

Covering the movement required physical courage, and remaining impartial under the blows of angry white crowds was a struggle for many journalists from the North who covered the civil rights movement. That was true even for Martin, an Alabama native with liberal views on race.

To cover the 1965 killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson by an Alabama state trooper, Martin recalled traveling to Marion, Ala., in the middle of the night with three cameras and a couple of .22-caliber pistols beneath the front seat of his Plymouth Valiant. He was also armed with two accents – the one he normally spoke with, and a deep-fried version he used to disarm the “rednecks” outside Birmingham who saw him as an unwelcome interloper.

“You never knew if you were talking to a Klansman back then,” said Hubert Grissom, 73, a former attorney for the firm that represented the Birmingham News, which sometimes downplayed the racial unrest developing in its own backyard.

What strikes me about is that one of the issues that scholars of democracy often note as vital is not just a free press in a legal sense, but a free press in the sense that it is no danger for journalists to do their jobs.  This is an issue that I have seen, for example, in studying Colombia and one that has been of issue in recent years in Mexico.  If a free citizenry relies on a free press for information, then it follows that democracy is threatened when the press is threatened.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. TastyBits says:

    There is no need to travel to Mexico. It is an issue you can see today with police refusing to be photographed or videotaped. As recently as Ferguson, the police were harassing legitimate press people.

  2. @TastyBits: Sadly, that is an excellent point.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    If a free citizenry relies on a free press for information, then it follows that democracy is threatened when the press is threatened.

    Or when the press stenographers refuse to do their jobs.