Art and Activism in Focus

Art and Activism in Focus

New McMullen show offers a rare look at civil rights movement

By Rosanne Pellegrini
Staff Writer

A groundbreaking exhibition exploring how African-American photographers were instrumental in motivating cultural change opens next week at the McMullen Museum of Art.

"I Am a Man," by Ernest Withers, will be among the 130 photos displayed at the McMullen Museum of Art exhibition "Reflections in Black: Art and Activism, African American Photographs from the Smithsonian Institute" opening Sept. 26.
"Reflections in Black: Art and Activism, African American Photographs from the Smithsonian Institute" will be on display from Sept. 26 through Dec. 7. The public is invited to attend an opening reception at the McMullen Museum on Wednesday, Oct. 1 from 7 to 9 p.m., featuring music by BC bOp! and Voices of Imani.

The exhibition comprises more than 130 images from the Civil Rights era to the present, a period, exhibition organizers say, in which many African-American photographers began to view the American civil rights movement as part of a larger and older struggle for independence and equal rights.

"The McMullen Museum is pleased to offer the New England audience the opportunity to see these important, largely unknown, photographs collected by the Smithsonian Institution," said Prof. Nancy Netzer (Fine Arts), director of the McMullen Museum, which during 2003-04 is marking the 10th anniversary year of its reopening.

"As a group, the photographs, accompanied by text written by Boston College faculty from various disciplines, shed new light on one of the most significant social and political movements in our nation's history."

Marches, meetings, rallies, and leading figures such as Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver, are documented through the eyes of leading photojournalists including Moneta Sleet Jr., Jack T. Franklin, Chuck Stewart, Milton J. Hinton, Robert Haggins, Jonathan Eubanks, Fern Logan, Ernest Withers and Hank Sloane Thomas. These works define the significance of the beginnings of the civil rights and Black Power movements in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The exhibition reveals how many photographers sought to be "graphic historians," creating a collective biography of African-American people that would empower them in their struggle for civil rights, while at the same time providing evidence of the diversity of their individual histories, values and goals.

Curated by New York University Professor of Photography Deborah Willis, "Reflections in Black" is organized by the Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, and is circulated by Curatorial Assistance, Pasadena, California.

This presentation and accompanying texts were conceived by the McMullen Museum of Art and faculty from the Black Studies Program, the departments of English, Fine Arts, History, Music, Political Science, Sociology and Theology, as well as the Lynch School of Education and Law School. The exhibition is supported by Boston College with partial funding provided by John Hancock Financial Services Inc.

A number of public programs will be offered in conjunction with the exhibition, including a lecture by Willis at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 28 and the Lynch School's third annual "Diversity Challenge Conference." A weekly film series will be held in October, featuring "South Africa: Beyond a Miracle," co-produced by Prof. John Michalczyk (Fine Arts), Spike Lee's "Four Little Girls," the documentary "Skin Deep" and an episode from the "Eyes on the Prize" series.

Information on these and other related events, as well as the "Reflections in Black" exhibition, is available through the McMullen Museum Web site at


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