March 7, 2015

A Different View of the Edmund Pettus Bridge — Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character – requires admitting as much.

— from President Obama’s speech at the Edmund Pettus Bridge (3/7/15)

I just arrived in New Orleans for the first time for the Society of Photographic Education annual conference. While in there, I’m hoping to visit the Whitney Plantation, otherwise known as America”s first slavery museum. If you read the article about it in last week’s NYT Magazine, it highlights the irony that one never existed, even as America has created major museums dedicated to The Holocaust and 9/11.

That’s what was going through my mind when I saw Andrew Lichtenstein’s wonderful photograph of the Edmund Pettus bridge, being recognized this weekend for the 50th anniversary of Black Sunday, involving the attack on civil rights marchers who had just crossed over.

As high-minded as the event is this weekend, the speeches, including Obama’s, clearly recognize that the issue of race remains considerably fraught and that racial advancement is still an excruciating obstacle for the country. I think those facts are implicit in the way this photo is situated. With an image this rich (call it: reflection from the ground up), there are many themes and ideas it can seem to be speaking to.  Simply though, there is the idea that aspirational symbols can obscure what’s more ambiguous underneath. And, there is the need to get further below those structures that represent our racial divide.

— Michael Shaw

(photo: Andrew Lichtenstein. Selma, Alabama, 2013.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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