Presidents’ Day and Black History Month: “Actions speak louder than words”

We are already in February, a month which is designated as Black History Month. Being a rookie in this country and knowing very little about African-American history, it could seem presumptuous of me to write about it but I have been urged to do so after three different events came to mind recently.

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Don Cravens, [Rosa Parks riding on newly integrated bus following Supreme Court ruling ending successful 381-day boycott of segregated buses, Montgomery, Alabama], 1956 (1262.2005)

The first happened on February 4. How many people know that Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was born on February 4, 1913? The above image was taken a year after her refusal to give up her seat on a bus on December 1, 1955. It wouldn’t be the same scenario if she hadn’t stood up for her right to sit the previous year. She didn’t give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, the white section being full. It wouldn’t be such a mundane picture on a bus if there hadn’t been 381 days of segregated buses after her refusal.

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Francis Miller, [Elizabeth Eckford being denied entrance to Central High School by Arkansas National Guard, Little Rock, Arkansas], 1957 (1874.2005)

And why should I highlight her act this week? Well, February 18, the third Monday of the month, celebrates the births and the lives of all US presidents. When I discovered the relevance of such a national holiday and that Abraham Lincoln also issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, I asked myself: “Should we wait until a president passes away to highlight what he did?” “No,” was my answer. In fact, President Obama decided to honor Rosa Parks on the one-hundredth anniversary of her birth on February 4, 2013, with a presidential proclamation!

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Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, 1967 (354.1974)

Rosa Parks (February 4, 1913–October 24, 2005) wasn’t the first to stand up for her rights but she has been generally recognized as one of the key people whose acts inspired the Civil Rights Movement, which led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.

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Charles Moore, [Protesters taunting police officer during civil rights demonstration, Birmingham, Alabama], 1963 (158.1991)

But is black history all about rights, marches, and riots? How could the ICP shed light on other aspects? Recently ICP presented an exhibition on apartheid in South Africa. And in 2005, ICP organized African American Vernacular Photography: Selections from the Daniel Cowin Collection and published an illuminating exhibition catalogue.

The United States would not be the same country without the strength, firmness, talents, and willpower of African Americans. I’m grateful to Rosa Parks, “the first lady of Civil Rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement,” for what she accomplished but I also hold people like Ada Brown in my heart.

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J. Wiese, [Ada Brown], ca. 1920s (621.1990)

Ada Brown, “Evil Mama Blues” or “The Queen of the Blues,” was an American blues singer and I think she deserves more, something she hasn’t had yet: a biography.

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About Francesca Teodori

I'm Italian but I live in New York. I work as a photo archivist. I love photography and...
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