Historic photos documenting Alabama civil rights struggle on exhibit

March 17, 2005

Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the historic 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march, the Penn State Libraries are presenting an exhibit of previously unseen Alabama state police photographs documenting the march and lead-up events. The exhibit, "Freedom Isn't Free," is available to the public through mid-April in the Penn State Harrisburg library.

The state police photographs are part of a larger Alabama Civil Rights Collection donated recently to the Penn State Libraries by Jack Rabin, professor of public administration and public policy at Penn State Harrisburg. The full collection includes a wide range of photographs, slides, films, audiotapes, record albums, books, microfilms, paper documents and correspondence pertaining to the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama and other Deep South states.

Rabin acquired the Selma photographs while teaching at Auburn University's Montgomery campus in the mid-1970s. He discovered their existence in a conversation with a state police official enrolled in one of his classes, then secured permission to copy most of the available photographs. The original photographs were destroyed in the 1980s by the Department of Public Safety to comply with federal regulations prohibiting police retention of photographs of individuals not under active investigation.

The Selma-to-Montgomery March took place March 21 to 25, 1965, under federal protection, following three weeks of demonstrations and marches to secure voting rights for African-Americans in Alabama. Starting with 3,200 individuals, the march swelled to 25,000 people by the time it reached Montgomery for a culminating demonstration at the Alabama state capitol.

The photographic exhibit includes dramatic photos of police brutality on March 7, 1965 -- "Bloody Sunday"-- when state and local lawmen attacked 600 marchers with tear gas and clubs at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The photographs also depict a symbolic march on March 9, rallies in churches and neighborhoods, and nonviolent resistance by demonstrators. Major civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young and John Lewis, are shown in the photographs.

As a result of the Selma marches, public pressure was exerted on Congress and the Johnson administration to permit African-Americans to vote in Southern states where the franchise had consistently been denied. That pressure resulted in the passage in August 1965 of the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed literacy tests, provided protection for black citizens to vote safely and eventually enabled blacks to run for elected offices in the South.

A joint holding of the Special Collections Library at University Park and the Penn State Harrisburg Library, the collection is housed in the Paterno Library, where it currently is being organized and preserved. Finding aids are being developed to provide ready access to collection materials, and parts of the collection will be digitized to permit Internet access. Further announcements will be made when the collection is accessible for research use.

The Penn State Harrisburg library is open to the public from 7:45 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; from 7:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays; from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays; and from noon to 10:30 p.m. Sundays. For information, call (717) 948-6070.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009