The Civil Rights Era was a period of extreme divisions and conflict in American and Southern society. These images show us both sides of the conflict: whites and blacks working together to end segregation, and white officials using fire hoses to physically and mentally oppress blacks. Images like the one with the fire hoses turned onto blacks served to greatly embarrass the United States on the global stage at the time. The Soviet Union, for example, criticized the United States for its racism, segregation, and race-based violence. Unfortunately, this image is one of the tamer ones. Some of the images that came from this era were significantly more gruesome, like the image of Emmett Till’s mutilated body in an open casket. The international embarrassment that came from the release of such images forced the United States to act much quicker than it probably would have if the images had not gotten out.
For me, the image of the Freedom Riders is the most inspiring. The Freedom Riders rode an interstate bus from Washington, DC to New Orleans in a mixed race group in an act of rebellion against the South’s refusal to desegregate interstate bus facilities as demanded by the Interstate Commerce Commission. They wanted the government to enforce 13th-15th amendments of the Constitution, as one poster reads. The posters and faces of the individuals in the image shows how excited and happy they are to fight for what they believe and know to be right, even though they undoubtedly anticipated some of the “terror” that would arise when their bus entered the Deep South. When the Freedom Riders reached Birmingham, for example, the police commissioner allowed members of the Ku Klux Klan to meet the bus and have a guaranteed head start before the police would be forced to intervene. The KKK members often acted most harshly towards white Freedom Riders, since they were “betraying” their own race. One of the white Freedom Riders was severely injured, but was denied treatment at the hospital in Birmingham. For the rest of their journey, the Freedom Riders faced similar confrontations.
The images in the bottom of the collage of white and black people working together for equal rights are also inspiring. It shows how many people did not agree with the terrible segregation and overt racism that was prevalent in the South. Perhaps the most interesting part is looking at their signs and comparing them to the signs we saw from the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. The signs in this image ask for voting rights, jobs, and an end to segregation. However, there is a common thread in all of them: they are not attacking others. The signs we saw from the integration of Little Rock Central High called people who wanted integration communists, communist Jews, or even the antichrist. The rhetoric in those signs is shockingly similar to anti-Obama rhetoric that is prevalent today. Many on the far right insist that Obama is a communist, the antichrist, and a Muslim. It is very interesting how this rhetoric has persisted in the South over the past 50 years, although it has now switched sides of the political spectrum.