Thursday, April 15, 2010

Maurice Berger's "For All The World To See"

Maurice Berger is Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights, and reported the following:
Page 99 of For All The World To See contains no text, and just a single photograph. But what a powerful image it is: a shot of a distraught Mamie Till Bradley as she views the casket of her fourteen-year old son, Emmett Till, murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi in August 1955. The photograph brings to life the book’s abiding issue: the crucial role that visual culture played in altering prevailing ideas about race, racism, and segregation in the period of the modern civil rights movement.

Shortly after the teenager was killed, his grieving mother distributed to the press a gruesome photograph of his mutilated corpse. Other photographs of the crime and its aftermath—from shots of Till’s funeral to the trial of his murderers—would soon follow. Asked why she thought these photographs important, Mrs. Bradley explained that by witnessing with their own eyes the brutality of segregation and racism, Americans would be more likely to support the cause of racial justice. “Let the world see what I’ve seen,” was her reply.

The publication of these images inspired a generation of activists to join the civil rights movement. By a number of measures, Bradley’s largely visual campaign to alter public opinion worked. The photographs of her shattered child were the most potent—and unimpeachable—witness to his tragic and senseless death. The images reached and moved millions of Americans, impelling a new generation of activists to join the cause. Despite this extraordinary episode, the story of visual culture’s role in the modern civil rights movement is rarely included in its history. For All The World To See is the first comprehensive examination of the ways images mattered in the struggle, and it investigates a broad range of media including photography, television, film, magazines, newspapers, and advertising.
Read more about For All the World to See at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue