Kansas City, Missouri-based Regional Arts Organization Originates Tour
Mid-America Arts Alliance’s NEH on the Road program, For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights, is currently on display at the Wyandotte County Historical Museum in Bonner Springs through May 25.
The exhibition is compelling with photographs, television clips, art posters, and historic artifacts; For All the World to See traces how images and media disseminated to the American public transformed the modern civil rights movement and jolted Americans, both black and white, out of a state of denial or complacency.
Creative Director and Humanities Exhibitions Curator Leslie Przybylek says the full exhibition includes large historical panels that touch on various facets of African-American imagery from news to fictional characters that became iconic. Also included are civil rights-era objects that exemplify the range of negative and positive imagery — from Aunt Jemima syrup dispensers and 1930s produce advertisements to Jackie Robinson baseball ephemera and 1960s children’s toys with African American portraiture.
“It’s a current conversation when anyone looks or reads the headlines of today,” she says. “Communities that request the exhibition will get the chance to put their take on it. They can do the local programming and invite in the schools or the chambers of commerce. It becomes a broader conversation and reaches a broader audience.” Przybylek expects community conversations to include schools and churches.
The full exhibition explores dozens of compelling visual images, including photographs from influential magazines, such as LIFE, JET, and EBONY; CBS news footage; and TV clips from The Ed Sullivan Show. Other television shows featured in the exhibition are Good Times, the sort of seminal depiction of life in the Chicago projects and Julia, a three-season show featured Diahann Carroll as a nurse that was met with mixed criticism as to whether or not the character represented the African-American plight of the late 1960s and early 1970s. There is also a panel about Song of the South, one of the movies that proved a catalyst to have African-Americans seek out better ways of being portrayed.
Przybylek says the power of television came not in the portrayals, but in the nightly news as leaders such as Malcolm X embraced the coverage. “The immediacy of television, that sort of unfiltered look, especially at the brutality of the dogs and water cannons used on marchers,” she says. There are images from the March on Washington and Birmingham.
For All the World to See is not a history of the civil rights movement, but rather an exploration of the vast number of potent images that influenced how Americans perceived race and the struggle for equality, Przybylek says.
The title of the exhibition comes from the 1955 tragedy of 14-year-old Emmett Till’s murder after he allegedly flirted with a white married woman when he was visiting relatives in Mississippi. His mother, Mamie Till Bradley, insisted on viewing her son’s mutilated body upon its arrival in Chicago. “There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. And I just wanted the world to see,” she said to reporters. Graphic images ran in Jet and The Chicago Defender.
For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights was curated by Dr. Maurice Berger, Research Professor, The Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture, University of Maryland, Baltimore. It was co-organized by The Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture and the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution.
Wyandotte County Historical Museum Director Trish Schurkamp says the chance to host the exhibition demonstrates the understanding that a local museum can bring in the relationships. “We have the panels that show how Wyandotte County dealt with Civil Rights. It is such a phenomenal topic.” Mid-America Arts Alliance worked hard to have a voice in this community and the show here is so important.” During the exhibition, the museum will also mark its 10th anniversary.
Schurkamp and Curator Jennifer Laughlin have had the intergenerational conversation that the exhibition naturally creates. “For me, this is my youth. Jennifer is younger, but we talked about the journey that we have all come through. I remember segregated parks and programs.”
Laughlin has created the smaller panels to accompany the national exhibition. They will feature integration issues of the USD 500 School District, detailed information on the citywide lockdown that occurred in 1968 after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and the creation of Sumner High School. “There is a general overview of the African-American history in our county and the key players here. Wyandotte County has a rich history that ties so well to this national exhibition. It is also about the continual dialogue we all need to have into this 21st century.”
Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose Salt and Pepper Shakers, c. 1950s. Plastic, F & F Mold and Die Works, Dayton, Ohio. From the NEH on the Road exhibition For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. 2011. Photo: E. G. Shempf.
Good Times cast, TV Guide, December 14-20, 1974. From the NEH on the Road exhibition For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. 2011. Photo: E. G. Shempf.
Medgar Evers Funeral, Life Magazine, June 28, 1963. From the NEH on the Road exhibition For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. 2011. Photo: E. G. Shempf.