NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY TO SHOWCASE PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE
FRONT LINES OF THE 1965 SELMA-TO-MONTGOMERY CIVIL RIGHTS MARCH
Iconic Photographs by Stephen Somerstein Capture the Spirit of the
Civil Rights Movement
October 28, 2014, New York, NY – Early next year, the New-York Historical Society will showcase a powerful selection of photographs by Stephen Somerstein that chronicle the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Civil Rights March, honoring the 50th anniversary of the protest that changed the course of civil rights in America. On view from January 19 through April 19, 2015, the exhibition Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March by Stephen Somerstein will feature the work of the 24-year-old City College student, who felt he had to document “what was going to be a historic event.” He accompanied the marchers, gaining unfettered access to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, Joan Baez, and Bayard Rustin.
Through 55 black and white and color photographs, Freedom Journey 1965 will document the quest for equality and social justice over the five-day march. Then the managing editor and picture editor of the City College newspaper, Stephen Somerstein recalls “When Dr. King called on Americans to join him in a massive protest march to Montgomery, I knew that important, nation-changing history was unfolding and I wanted to capture its power and meaning with my camera.”
The Selma-to-Montgomery March marked a peak of the American civil rights movement. From March 21 to March 25, 1965, hundreds of people marched from Selma to the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Alabama to protest against the resistance that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other groups had encountered in their mission to register black voters. By March 25, the group had grown to 25,000 people, which Dr. King addressed from the steps of the Montgomery State Capitol. Three months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Somerstein took approximately 400 photographs over the five-day, 54 mile march. Exhibition highlights include images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressing the crowd of 25,000 civil rights marchers in Montgomery; folk singer Joan Baez, standing before a line of state troopers blocking the entrance to the State Capitol; white hecklers yelling and gesturing at marchers; families watching the march from their porches; and images of young and old alike participating in the demonstration.
Somerstein pursued a career in physics, building space satellites at the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Lockheed Martin Co. Upon retiring, Somerstein revisited the Selma photographs. Though he had sold a few of them, the majority were not showcased until he participated in a civil rights exhibition at the San Francisco Art Exchange in 2010. “I realized that I had numerous iconic and historic photographs that I wanted to share with the public,” says Somerstein.
On February 11, 2015, Randall Kennedy will examine the origins, designs, and consequences of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. How does this landmark act continue to resonate a half-century later, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling? Kennedy is a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and the author of For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law.
About the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.