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2018 SPE Annual Conference: Uncertain Times: Borders, Refuge, Community, Nationhood / Hosted by The University of the Arts

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This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement

As relevant today as they were half a century ago, more than 150 black-and-white images chronicling the Southern Freedom Movement are featured in This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement. The 4,000-square-foot multimedia exhibition features works by nine activist photographers who documented the clash between institutionalized discrimination and determined resistance by activists and volunteers. “The power of these photographs that helped catapult long-existing inequities into the national consciousness is undeniable,” asserts Maltz Museum executive director Ellen Rudolph. Pain, fear and hope—the emotions and momentum fueling the movement are palpable in the images.”

The Maltz Museum added videos, interactive features and material about racial division today. “This exhibition is very timely,” says Museum co-founder Milton Maltz, noting its relevance to recent shootings, riots, vigils and protests in Baltimore, Charleston, Cleveland, Dallas and Milwaukee. “Ordinary people risked everything to fight for equality in the segregated South of the 1960s. The question this exhibition asks is, 50 years later, who will take up the challenge to right inequities that continue to spark anger across this country? How can we heal this open wound of racial division in America?”

“As a museum of diversity and tolerance depictions of everyday people who stood up for justice fits perfectly with our efforts to encourage individuals to understand and accept their roles in ending intolerance and indifference," asserts Museum education director Jeffery Allen. “It is as Cleveland’s own Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., a former regional director of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a Selma march participant once put it, ‘If there is no conscience in the community, we have to be that conscience.’"

Recognizing racial divisions weren’t relegated to the South, This Light of Ours also includes content related to Northeast Ohio’s own turmoil and triumphs at this critical moment in American history. “During this same decade Cleveland experienced the Hough uprising of 1966 and the long struggle to desegregate Cleveland's public schools,” notes Allen. “The region also witnessed the 1967 election of Carl Stokes as the first black mayor of a major American city and the groundbreaking role played by his brother, Louis, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Exhibition-related programming will be tied into community-wide commemorations of these milestones, examining their legacy in light of current events.”

This Light of Ours features photographers Bob Adelman, George Ballis, Bob Fitch, Bob Fletcher, Matt Herron, David Prince, Herbert Randall, Maria Varela and Tamio Wakayama. The photographic portion of the exhibition was organized by the Center for Documentary Expression and Art with major support provided by the Bruce W. Bastian Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts. Curator: Matt Herron; Historical Consultant: Charlie Cobb Jr.; Project Originators: Leslie Kelen and Steven Kasher. The films, design and exhibition experience were conceived and produced by the Maltz Museum.

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