The Birmingham News (of Alabama for you non-U.S. people) recently found photographs that chronicled the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Ala., dating from 1950 to 1965. These photographs were taken by the newspaper's photographers, but hidden from sight.
Here's a little background.
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."
The section is the result of research by Alexander Cohn, a 30-year-old former photo intern at The News. In November 2004, Cohn went through an equipment closet at the newspaper in search of a lens and saw a cardboard box full of negatives marked, "Keep. Do Not Sell."
Cohn, who grew up in Mountain Brook and is a master's candidate at the University of Missouri, researched the images and discovered that many had never been published.
"These images were hidden in plain sight," Cohn said. "When I first started looking through this stuff, I was seeing a lot of images that I'd never seen before. I started going through everything on the subject that I could find to get a fuller picture of what was going on."
In all, Cohn said, he found 5,000 images from 1950 to 1965 in the cardboard box. He examined 2,000 and estimated that most had not been published.
Why weren't more of the photos published 40 or 50 years ago?
"It was difficult for people to see," said Horace Huntley, director of oral history at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and professor of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "People were embarrassed by it. The city fathers were embarrassed by it."
What followed was two years of research to get the story behind the story. Photographers, reporters, clergymen, elected officials, civil rights leaders, historians, witnesses, and participants were all interviewed.
The Birmingham News has published some of the photos just this past Sunday, although you can still see the photos online at the Unseen. Unforgotten. website. There are also plans to use some of the images in a special exhibition at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute beginning March 13.
To save my Flist the image overload, I picked four haunting pictures to tempt you into visiting the site:
April 4, 1961: A single, dangling lightbulb and a coal-burning stove show the conditions at some black schools in Jefferson County. Birmingham schools were not integrated until September 1963.
December 1956: During a Birmingham City Council meeting to discuss integrated city buses, half the audience hide their face from the camera, a practice common at the time among Klan members and supporters.
March 6, 1957: Lamar Weaver, an early supporter of civil rights, greets the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and his wife, Ruby, in the whites-only waiting room at Birmingham's train depot, Terminal Station.
March 6, 1957: The Rev. Shuttlesworth is stopped before entering the whites only waiting room at Birmingham's Terminal station. This photo came one day after the Alabama Public Service Commission ruled that the waiting rooms must remain segregated.
I urge everyone to visit Unseen. Unforgotten., especially my countrymen. The illuminating pictures of this period are educational and bring home just what the Civil Rights Movement was up against.