SCRC’s current exhibition documents three Civil Rights movements using archival materials in our holdings. The exhibition will be on display until February 21, 2019. A reception for the exhibition will be held on Thursday, January 31, 2019 in SCRC, Fenwick 2400. The reception will include comments on the exhibition by the curators and Robinson Professor, Dr. Spencer Crew, a tour of the exhibition, and food and refreshments.
Selma. Seneca Falls. Stonewall.
Three names. Three places. Three movements. These separate flashpoints in history are tied together through shared goals, and sometimes the same. Selma: marchers in 1965 showed their resolve supporting voting rights of African Americans in the face of sustained and often lethal segregationist repression. The Seneca Falls Convention: the women’s rights movement officially began there in 1848. The LGBT community’s liberation movement started at the Stonewall Inn—not as a peaceful convention, but with riots and protests.
Before and Beyond 1968: Three Civil Rights Movements in America exhibits materials from the collections in the George Mason University Libraries Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). The items in the cases are from selected individuals and organizations involved in some way with these three civil rights movements. The displayed pieces were created between the 19th through 21st century, and originate primarily in the United States. This limitation applies only to our collections; the pursuit of equal rights by minorities is global in scope and extends long before the 1800s…and continues today.
So, why 1968 as a specific point for this exhibit? Fifty years ago, the United States (and the world) was experiencing deep unrest and violence. The assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. in April was followed by riots nationwide. Within the following week, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1968 (Fair Housing Act) ensuring equal housing rights “regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin.” Soon after, over 3,000 people camped on the National Mall as part of the Poor People’s Campaign highlighting the economic injustice of impoverished Americans. Robert Kennedy, presidential candidate and brother of JFK, was assassinated in June. The Black Panther Party gained greater prominence as they took an increased militant and activist role in the burgeoning Black Power movement. During the Olympics, two US Olympic medal winners each raised a fist in support of Black Power in the televised medal ceremony. Protests of support or opposition to civil rights (and the Vietnam War) erupted across the country, roiling citizens, college students, and elected leaders. The intensity of this heightened struggle for African Americans’ civil rights in the 1960s reenergized the women’s movement in the 1970s, and infused the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement with nonviolent and activist approaches from the 1960s to the present.
This exhibit, through what might be characterized as ordinary (but often painful) documents, attempts to illuminate parts of these three civil rights movements. Each movement has multiple arguments and ways to inform about a shared code of beliefs or values. Photographs educate and, sometimes, inspire one to action. Reports present researched facts. Letters reveal personal opinions. Plays and books interpret past and present realities, or anticipate future ones. The actions of people – of our fellow citizens – reflect the times in which they lived, their individual challenges, choices made, their perspectives and vision for the future. Although incomplete, this exhibit is an invitation to more deeply examine the long, slow march of civil rights history in the United States.
“Before and Beyond 1968” is curated by Lynn Eaton (Director, Special Collections Research Center) and Bob Vay (Digital Collections and Exhibition Archivist, Special Collections Research Center). Consultation provided by Spencer Crew (Robinson Professor of African American and Public History).
The exhibition will be on display until February 21, 2019.
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