Essay about Visual Culture of the Civil Rights Movement

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The meaning, significance, and definition of race have been debated for centuries. Historical race concepts have varied across time and cultures, creating scientific, social, and political controversy. Of course, today’s definition varies from the scientific racism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that justified slavery and later, Jim Crow laws in the early twentieth. It is also different from the genetic inferiority argument that was present at the wake of the civil rights movement. However, despite the constantly shifting concepts, there seems to be one constant that has provided a foundation for ideas towards race: race is a matter of visually observable attributes such as skin color, facial features, and other self-evident…show more content…
The central photographs of the movement were the images of struggle and resistance that were widely published by the media and found their way into the homes of both black and white America. Images of violence against African Americans were integral in exposing the truth of racism to a nation of ambivalence, unknowing, and utter denial. These are the images that most associate with the movement and were a crucial element in the visual culture of the time. However, civil rights leaders and activist understood that these images could not work alone. It was important to present images that would alter the nation’s attitudes towards race, images that were radically different than photographs of protests and violence. As the modern civil rights movement grew, visual culture became and important force for combating the negative view of African Americans and counteracting the dangerous effects of stereotypes. The birth of the modern African American pictorial magazine in the 1940s and 1950s provided an outlet to disseminate positive images of African Americans to a large African American audience. These images inspired activism, bolstered self-esteem, and acted against the damaging effects of prevailing stereotypes. Positive images of African Americans were also present in primarily “white” media. The presence of these images was intended
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