Silhouettes of Courage: Marching to Equality was designed and curated by Auburn University Montgomery students enrolled in VISU 3600: Introduction to Art Museology (Spring 2012). The exhibit featured photographs selected from the Jim Peppler Southern Courier Photograph Collection at the Alabama Department of Archives and History and the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, as well as Life Magazines from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
Highlighting the lives and contributions of Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., Virginia Durr, Rev. Robert S. Graetz, John Lewis, and Dr. Gwendolyn M. Patton, as well as local events including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma to Montgomery March, the exhibit presented a story of the Civil Rights movement in Alabama. The movement, however, did not end with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Thus the exhibit continued with silhouettes representing the Women’s, Chicano, American Indian, Anti-War, LGBTQ, and Disability Rights movements, as well as the current struggle over Alabama’s anti-immigration legislation, House Bill-56. The exhibit asked viewers to see themselves in the silhouettes of the courageous individuals — both past and present, known and unknown — who have united to lobby for civil rights and social justice.
Silhouettes of Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., Virginia Durr, and Rev. Robert S. Graetz
Silhouettes of Gwendolyn Patton, Rep. John Lewis, and “Anonymous”
Barbara DeMichels and Gwen Patton (seated)
Nearly 1,000 African-American pilots trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field between 1941 and 1946. They united to become one of the most respected U.S. fighter groups of World War II, “The Red Tails.” They were the only escort fighter group specifically asked for “By Request” in the European theater.
Benjamin O. Davis and Edward C. Gleed were distinguished Tuskegee Airmen. Davis was Commander of the 99th and 332nd Fighter Groups and Gleed was Squadron Commander of the 301st and Fighter Operations Officer of the 332nd.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was an economic, political, and social protest opposing racial segregation on public city buses. The campaign lasted from December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat, until December 20, 1956, when the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Browder v. Gayle declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses unconstitutional.
On June 11, 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace stood at the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama in an attempt to block two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from registering. The drama of the nation’s division over desegregation came sharply into focus that day as temperatures soared and the news media looked on. State troopers surrounded the building as Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, flanked by federal marshals, order Wallace to step aside.
Wallace refused, citing the constitutional right of states to operate public schools, colleges, and universities. Katzenbach called President Kennedy, who federalized the Alabama National Guard to help with the crisis. Ultimately, Wallace stepped aside and the two students were allowed to register for classes.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was one of the largest political rallies for human rights, with over 250,000 participants, 80% of whom were black. It took place on Wednesday, August 28, 1963 and marked the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The march was planned and organized by: Philip Randolph, President, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, President, Negro American Labor Council, and Vice President, AFL-CIO, James Farmer, Co-founder, Congress of Racial Equality, John Lewis, President, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Martin Luther King, Jr., President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Roy Wilkins, President, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Whitney Young, Executive Director, National Urban League
The Selma to Montgomery March, a critical event in the Civil Rights Movement, was organized by John Lewis and Hosea Williams to protest lack of voting rights in Alabama. More than 500 peaceful protestors gathered for the march to Montgomery, but got only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge when they were brutally attacked by state and local police on Sunday, March 7, 1965, a day that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Two weeks later on March 21 about 3,200 people began the 54-mile walk to Montgomery. Walking 10-12 miles a day and sleeping in fields, the group swelled to 25,000 by the time they reached the Capitol on Thursday, March 25.
Less than five months after the Selma to Montgomery March, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on August 6. The 1965 act suspended poll taxes, literacy tests, and other subjective voter tests. It also authorized Federal supervision of voter registration in states where discriminatory tests had been used. Within months of its passage, 250,000 new black voters had been registered, and within four years, voter registration in the South had more than doubled.