When R. C. Hickman arrived in Mansfield, Texas, on August 30, 1956, he knew it would be a dangerous assignment. Arriving at the local high school in order to document its integration, he saw three figures swinging from the playground trees: effigies of black students, mock-lynched by a white mob. Hickman, who was black, worked quickly to capture the scene but was spotted by the mob, who then tried to capture him. He was able to get to his car and drive off, but members of the mob pursued him all the way to Fort Worth before giving up chase when Hickman fled into a funeral home.
Hickman was especially vulnerable to the dangers faced by photographers who covered integration and the civil rights movement. But those dangers were real regardless of race. Like Hickman, Flip Schulke, Charles Moore, and Spider Martin all found themselves in the middle of violent confrontations where their presence was unwelcome. Whether documenting the intimidating, unsavory tone of those protesting integration or witnessing state-sanctioned police brutality against civil rights activists, photojournalists put themselves in harm’s way. Their images they captured exposed the injustice of the Jim Crow South and helped galvanize support for the civil rights movement.
The center’s new exhibit, Struggle for Justice, unashamedly celebrate these photographers’ legacy. Drawn from the center’s unrivaled photojournalism collections, the images on display are compelling, beautiful, disturbing, and encouraging—just like the history they document. The exhibit will remain up throughout the spring semester. The next e-newsletter will have details about programming around the exhibit that we are planning for February.
We are halfway through the 2017–18 academic year—the center’s first year open since its comprehensive renovation. I’m delighted to say that we’ve already hosted more than a dozen university classes, opened a major new exhibit and seen over a thousand independent researchers use the reading room. It’s great to see our new resources and facilities being used so readily by students, scholars, and members of the public.
To finish, I want to pay my respects to Liz Smith and Wally McNamee, who both passed on in November. Liz was one of America’s most influential social page columnists for more than half a century. After graduating from UT in 1949, she moved to New York, where she developed an unparalleled knack of charming her way into the upper echelons of New York’s chattering classes. Despite the rarefied atmosphere in which she walked, she always remained warm hearted and down to earth. She generously donated her archives to the center in 2009.
Wally was one of the most productive and talented photojournalists of his generation, whose photographs have enriched many of the center’s exhibits. His archive of images, housed at the center and utilized in many exhibits and publications over the years, will no doubt serve future generations of researchers as an invaluable visual resource for understanding the American past.
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History