July 20, 2020
Where John Lewis Meets the Present Moment

Photo: Stephen Crowley/New York Times Caption: May 21, 2009-Rep. Lewis tells the story to visiting school children from St. Clare Elementary School in St. Clare, PA of his participation in the march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama with Rev. Martin Luther King on March 7, 1965 in what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” One of Lewis’s staff holds a picture of Lewis being beaten of police.

Where John Lewis Meets the Present Moment

Stephen Crowley’s choice of this photo to honor Lewis’s passing elevates an important aspect of the civil rights movement. It highlights the injustices today as yet another opportunity to educate.

By Michael Shaw

A lot of familiar photos were published honoring the passing of John Lewis, the longtime congressman and civil rights icon. But Stephen Crowley’s, not surprisingly, was unique. The photo is a tribute to Lewis and to photography, with the active use of those two famous AP images.

The term “teaching moment” is a popular phrase, but this literally is one. Social movements are as much about education as advocacy, and Lewis was a keen and consistent instructor. In Stephen’s photo, taken on the steps of the U.S. Capitol eleven years ago, we see Lewis “setting up class” and sharing those blown-up photos of the march from Selma to Montgomery. In a vivid juxtaposition, we see Lewis aligned with the famous image of him being beaten on Bloody Sunday. His arm even bisects the frame.

Crowley’s choice of this photo to honor Lewis’s passing is also deeply informed by the present moment. As the nation is gripped by racial justice protests and so many citizens embrace still a new teaching moment, the image is informed by the imperative to educate the young, and also enlighten more white people.

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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