Steven Kasher is a photographer, curator, and author of the book The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68, published by Abbeville Press. This week, Kasher was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Abbeville Blog, and here, in the final portion of the interview, he talks about the role of photography and the continuing influence of the Civil Rights Movement.
Q. What role did photography play throughout the Movement?
A. You can mark the beginning of what we call the 60s—the era of protests and counterculture in America and elsewhere—to February 1960, when there was the sit-in in Greensboro, which started very small—just four college freshmen trying to get a cup of coffee in a Woolworth’s. Their action was a spark that kindled a fire that spread through the South very rapidly. Over a matter of weeks and months there were protests all over the South inspired by that first one. The tinder was there, and it had to be dry and ready to take the spark, and how exactly that happened is a very important part of the history. But the actions were spread through the news, the news media, and photography was a major part of that spreading of the word.
As the movement progressed, it was constantly being written about, snowballing as it went on. At first, the media attention was purely repressed and skeptical, but as the Movement gathered power and also learned how to publicize themselves, the word got out more and more, and it quickly reached beyond the South—into the North and to the newspapers that government leaders and the President of the United States read, and people around the world read. The accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement were very real and very much due to the direct action of everyday black people.
Q. How did the Civil Rights Movement inspire or serve as a role model for subsequent causes and movements for social change?
A. It has been an extremely important—if not the most important—social movement of our time. The Civil Rights Movement was really the first movement of the 60s. It inspired directly the peace movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, the environmental movement. The people who started all these other movements very often were trained in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s really endless, the effect of the Civil Rights Movement.
Q. What do you see as the continuing impact and importance of these photographs, half a century later?
A. I hope that people will read the book and look at the pictures and be inspired to see that a few people banded together and protesting in brave and creative ways can change a lot of things. That, to me, is the continuing message of the Civil Rights Movement. To look at it and see a lot has been achieved, and you can’t help looking at it and seeing that a lot still remains to be done, when you look at America, which still has racism and still has tremendous inequality. So the story is there to inspire us, to work continuously to make more equality.
Click here for more information on The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68, published by Abbeville Press.