Photo Histories
The Photographers' History of Photography
 
Marching to the Freedom Dream by Dan Budnik (Trolley Books, 2014)

TITLE: Marching to the Freedom Dream
BY: Dan Budnik, essays Harry Belafonte & James Enyeart
PUBLISHED: 2014, Trolley Books, London
SIZE: 235×275 mm
PAGES: 296
PHOTOGRAPHS: Colour and b&w throughout

Marching to the Freedom Dream

In 1965 a photojournalist from New York called Dan Budnik photographed a march out of Selma, Alabama in support of the right to vote then denied to the majority of Black Americans in many Southern States. The violence preceding the march, and the march itself which passed peacefully, led Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act which was signed into law by President Johnson fifty years ago this week. By Graham Harrison.

Dan Budnik’s images of Selma, taken in March 1965, form the bulk of Marching to the Freedom Dream, a solid and richly printed book of 296 pages sympathetic to the Ghandi-inspired nonviolence of the campaign for racial justice led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.. The book also contains pictures by Budnik of the Youth March for Integrated Schools in 1958 and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 at which Dr King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

The oppressive climate of segregation and race hatred in the American South at the time did not escape Budnik’s eye and we see lines of state troopers holding batons and we see racist slogans and segregationists waving of the Confederate flag.

However, Budnik avoided photographing the physical violence to concentrate on the “quiet things”, he says, that revealed the courage and commitment of the ordinary people who were marching for equality.

Turning the pages, particularly those which cover the march from the town of Selma, which had a fifty percent black population, to Montgomery, the Alabama State capital and Confederate stronghold 54 miles away, you catch something of the rhythm of marching feet. Feet which predominantly belonged to young black teenagers who were drawn to the protest because their parents and older siblings had been unjustly treated and detained by the authorities. [1] [2]

It rained two out of the five days of the march, Budnik writes. The core marchers slept at night in muddy fields and those who had dressed in their Sunday best took off their shoes and walked barefoot.

There were three Selma marches. Budnik photographed the third march which was the only one to reach its destination. The marches were prompted by the killing of a black voting rights activist called Jimmy Lee Jackson by Alabama state troopers in February 1965.

Jackson was protecting his mother and grandfather when he was shot in the abdomen and beaten by the troopers in the nearby town of Marion when a night protest was attacked by the authorities and by vigilantes brandishing clubs.

Unwelcome press attention that night was dealt with by white thugs who sprayed equipment with paint and beat up UPI photographers Pete Fisher, a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, and his colleague Reggie Smith and smashed their cameras. NBC News reporter Richard Valeriani was hospitalised. [3]

Two and a half weeks later, on America’s Bloody Sunday (Britain has its own), the first Selma march for voting rights ended as state troopers and a posse led by Sheriff Jim Clark attacked 525 peaceful marchers with tear gas, nightsticks and whips at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, injuring fifty-seven. [4]

March organiser Amelia Boynton was knocked out and left for dead. A wire photo of Boynton, lying unconscious on the bridge made the front page of newspapers round the world. CBS news and TV crews from West Germany and Japan caught the violence on film.

Shocked by the images, clergy from across America answered a call from Dr King to come to Selma to support the protest. On the night of the second march, which had stopped on the bridge for prayers then turned back in obeyance of a Federal injunction, local Klan members attacked three white ministers with clubs, their fists and boots. As the blows rained down one Klansman was heard to say, “Here’s how it feels to be a nigger down here”.

Two days later the Reverend James Reeb, a Unitarian minister from Boston, died from the injuries he received at the hands of the Klansmen. [5]

The killing of Jimmy Lee Jackson had provoked the Selma marches but it took the death of a white minister to stir the conscience of white America. A double page spread in Marching to the Freedom Dream, shows, in colour, nine respectably dressed photographers, all white, covering Reeb’s funeral on Nikon Fs and Leica M2s and M3s. On 15 March, President Johnson addressed a televised joint session of Congress in support of the Voting Rights Act.

A third march was planned and when the segregationist Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, refused to provide state protection Johnson was forced to guarantee the marchers Federal protection.

On 21 March 1965, ten days after James Reeb’s death, Dan Budnik photographed young white segregationists brandishing Confederate flags as the third march left Selma for Montgomery. With a guard of nearly 4,000 US Army soldiers, and Alabama National Guardsmen under Federal command, the march passed peacefully and four days later 25,000 people entered Montgomery in support of voting rights.

Rod Steiger’s Oscar-winning performance as Police Chief Bill Gillespie in the 1967 film In the Heat of the Night, gives a taste of the character of the Selma Sheriff, Jim Clark. Ironically, it was Clark’s overt and often violent racism that made the success of the campaign for equal voting rights inevitable.

In Marching to the Freedom Dream, Dan Budnik shows Sheriff Clark wielding a Confederate sword, and wearing a ‘NEVER’ badge on his lapel. For segregationists like Clark, ‘Never’ meant never integrate.

Other Budnik images show Clark chatting to a man at the wheel of a vehicle from Mississippi painted with a racist slogan and in a police car speaking to Governor Wallace on the radio phone. Budnik’s hand-written caption below the image has Clark saying, “Governor, Dan Budnik is in the car and they are starting to march”.

The New York Times, in its obituary of Sheriff Clark published in 2007, reported that he once sent a photographer to take pictures of demonstrators and threatened to send the photos to their employers. In Selma, Dan Budnik realised that black teenagers would pose for him not knowing if he was press or police.

Martin Luther King at Montgomery Airport, on day four of the Selma to Montgomery march by Dan Budnik. Photo of book © Graham Harrison.

Dan Budnik was born in Long Island, New York in 1933. He studied painting under Charles Alston, the first African American art teacher at the Art Students’ League, and photographed the city’s arts community which included Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning and sculptor David Smith. Budnik worked as an assistant to a number of Magnum photographers including Ernst Hass and Elliott Erwitt. In 1958 he spent six weeks with the underground in Havana documenting the Cuban Revolution for Magnum. He became an associate of the cooperative agency but left in 1964.

After World War Two, a conflict in which many African Americans had fought and died, it was the failure of white America to recognise their right to vote, to live or to eat where they chose, sit on public transport where they chose or to participate in professional sport that gave rise to the civil rights movement, writes the Hollywood actor Harry Belafonte in the foreword of Marching to the Freedom Dream. “The principle for which the Second World War was fought stood strong among people of colour.”

Belafonte, with Dr King and Bayard Rustin, the “master strategist” of the civil rights movement, organised the Youth March for Integrated Schools in Washington in October 1958.

The Youth March makes up the first section of Marching to the Freedom Dream and we see Belafonte with a group of students who hoped to petition the President, the right of every American citizen. Budnik’s pictures show that the students were refused entry to the Eisenhower White House and the gates closed in their faces.

Disappointed, they joined a gathering on the Mall at the Lincoln Memorial, making it – according to the caption – the prototype for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which brought a quarter of a million people to the capital five years later. The March on Washington forms the book’s second chapter. [6]

Budnik’s images of the March on Washington in 1963, include a close up in black and white of Martin Luther King taken when he was stuck in the crowd shortly after his ‘I Have a Dream’ address, which was the last speech of the day.

Dr King was momentarily lost in meditation and Budnik caught what he describes as “a fleeting glimpse into his soul”. The photograph is printed as a double page spread inside the book and as a small horizontal image on the cover. In 2013 Time magazine cropped the same frame tight to vertical for its cover commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the march.

It is a private moment, and as Robert Frank told Nicholas Dawidoff of the New York Times magazine recently, “Private moments make the interesting pictures”.

Budnik had gambled on being the only photographer standing above the lectern at the Lincoln Memorial. He was about sixteen steps from the speakers. The shot was taken using a Zeiss Olympia 180mm f2.8 lens, an optic rumoured to have been designed at Hitler’s request for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Turn 160 pages and Budnik catches King again, this time close up, probably with a 50mm lens. Dr King, then 36 and the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a passenger in a car leaving the Montgomery Municipal Airport on day four of the Selma to Montgomery march. He looks over his right shoulder at something we don’t see. His expression is again distant.

King may have been looking at something tangible, but what he seems to see is the future.

And he looks weary. On the night before he was shot and killed in 1968 he would say that he had seen the Promised Land, but “I may not get there with you”. The look Dan Budnik caught at Montgomery Airport suggests that even in 1965, the year of his greatest success with the passing of the Voting Rights Act, Martin Luther King knew how entrenched the forces stacked against him were and that the chances of ever reaching the Promised Land of racial equality were remote.

Although the Black experience in North America pre-dates the Mayflower and the Constitution of 1787 begins with “We the people” it nevertheless contained a Fugitive Slave provision and the Three-Fifths Rule which counted an African as three-fifths a man, or woman. [7]

The origin of racism was economic. Blacks were discredited as “heathen” and “uneducated” to justify the inhuman exploitation of the Atlantic slave trade. In the southern states of North America, land taken from the Red Indian needed Black slaves to maintain the plantation economy. The races were colour coded to support the lie of white supremacy that was used to maintain the white economy, from the poorest white labourer to the plantation owner or robber baron. To free the slaves (and to end the South’s free trade with Britain) a bloody civil war was fought. Unreconciled, these past traumas infuse the present. [8] [9]

Like Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County, the fabric of American history is cursed three times over. [10]

Without the catalyst of television perhaps nothing would have changed. There were a mere handful of early television sets in the United States at the end of the Second World War. By 1955 there was one in every two American homes. After the launch of the Telstar and Relay satellites in 1962, broadcasts could feature images from around the globe, and TV news, once an afterthought, was given extended air time.

Having been ignored by the mainstream media until then the civil rights movement was discovered by network news. “The confrontations between protesters and their opponents contained all the ingredients of good television: Clearly defined antagonists, dramatic conflict and a compelling moral storyline”, writes the historian Thomas Sugrue. “It is impossible to underestimate the role that news outlets played in publicising the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, bringing what had been largely local protests to a global audience.” [11]

Why magazines like Life and Look, which had depicted the hardships endured by white sharecroppers so evocatively, failed to plough their then plentiful resources into reporting civil rights in the early years of the movement deserves investigation. Dan Budnik has talked of National Geographic’s failure to engage on stories on Native Americans.

With 24-hour news and a distracting array of social media fighting for attention today, a subtler approach to recorded events that a picture book provides gives the reader, who is willing to spend an hour or two quietly turning pages, a better feeling of time and place.

With this book of photographs one gets a sense of what it must have been like to be in Washington in 1958 and 1963 or in Selma in 1965. What follows is the realisation of what has changed for the better in America since then. And what has hardly changed at all.

Marching to the Freedom Dream was published by Trolley Books in 2014 following a Kickstarter campaign that raised £15,069.

• • •


Marching to the Freedom Dream by Dan Budnik American Civil Rights 1958-1965, Queensborough Community College Art Gallery, 2010.

One Dream, a 50th Anniversary feature on Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech including photographs by Dan Budnik, Time magazine, 2013.

US cited for police violence, racism in scathing UN review on human rights, Al Jazeera, 11 May 2015.

Copyright: Martin Luther King registered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech with the US Copyright Office following the March on Washington in 1963. He later sued Mister Maestro Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox for marketing unauthorised records of his 17-minute speech. In 2009 Steven Spielberg’s Dream Works Studios obtained the film rights to King’s life and work from the King family for an undisclosed sum. As a result scriptwriters for Ava DuVernay’s Selma (2014) had to rewrite King’s speeches for the movie. Why you won’t see or hear the ‘I have a dream’ speech, The Washington Post, 27 August 2013.

• Picture Editor: Essential to any worthwhile newspaper or news magazine, but sometimes forgotten in book publishing, is the hard-as-nails Picture Editor, one of whose tasks is to ensure that every published picture and its caption tells a true story. On the second page of the chapter on the March on Washington (page 35) is a vertical image of a group of people standing below the Washington Monument. The caption reads “Marchers arrived in Washington, D.C. by buses and trains on the eve of the march, 140,000 of them, leaving on schedule the following day, an extraordinary feat.”

On the chapter’s final spread (pages 94 and 95) is another photograph of the very same scene. Like the earlier frame it shows a man with a ticket in his hat and a woman wearing a necklace. The two frames could only have been taken minutes apart. The caption reads: “Twenty-four hours later participants now wait for their buses to take them home, some 250,000 of them”.

For a book of documentary photography that credits four editors – Trolley’s Hannah Watson, archivist and historian Rixt Bosma, Budnik’s studio and archive manager Meredith Potts and Dan Budnik himself – this seems an unnecessary fudging of facts for the sake of the layout, or picture selection.



NOTES on MARCHING TO THE FREEDOM DREAM

[1] Today African Americans account for nearly 80% of the population of Selma and 58% of the population of Montgomery where non-Hispanic whites are 34.5% of the population. Compare Selma and Montgomery on citydata.com.

[2] Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery in December 1955 after refusing to give her seat on a bus to a white passenger. This led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a seminal event in the Civil Rights movement. The boycott ended in December 1956 when the Supreme Court maintained its decision to uphold a ruling that bus segregation was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment gave citizenship rights and equal protection of the law to former slaves.

[3] In May 2015 Valeriani shared his thoughts on the film Selma with the Huffington Post: Selma and Richard Valeriani: A Reporter’s Story.

[4] Edmund Pettus (1821-1907) was a segregationist Democrat and virulent opponent of the Fourteenth Amendment who used his influence as Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan to secure election to the US Senate. On 3 June 2015 the Alabama Senate voted to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge the Journey to Freedom Bridge after a grassroots student movement collected 180,000 signatures on change.org.

[5] The words “Here’s how it feels to be a nigger down here,” were heard by the Reverend Clark Olsen who was with Reeb and the Reverend Orloff W. Millerthe when the attack happened. From The Martyrs: Sixteen Who Gave Their Lives for Racial Justice, Jack Mendelsohn, 1966.

[6] The March on Washington Movement, formed to protest segregation in the armed forces in the early 1940s, was the model for the March on Washington in 1963. Perhaps a better prototype for the 1963 march is the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom of May 1957, at which Dr King addressed an estimated 25,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial with a speech entitled ‘Give Us the Ballot’. The first African American march in the US capital took place in 1922 when 5,000 people conducted a silent march in front of the White House and the Senate to call for an anti-lynching law. Opposition from Southern state legislators meant Congress never passed an anti-lynching law. Congress apologised for the omission in 2005.

[7] Introduction: The African American Journey—One Fate, Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, American Bar Association, 2009.

[8] The crime novelist Walter Mosely argues that race is an economic coding system used to maintain the white man’s claim to power: BAM’s 25th Annual Brooklyn tribute to Dr Martin Luther King Jnr., 17 January 2011. According to the Associated Press, “Only Mosley has employed detective fiction as a vehicle for a thoughtful, textured examination of race relations in the United States”.

[9] The Chinese labourers who worked on the railroads suffered similar exploitation.

[10] In his novels William Faulkner created Yoknapatawpha County, an imaginary place of “crossed destinies and complex genealogies” which “lay under a threefold curse: its land had been robbed from the Indians; it had taken up slavery and it had been defeated in the War between the States”. Faulkner’s mythic “tale of a dying Eden declining” has influenced the work of Toni Morrison and Alison Walker. The Atlas of Literature, General Editor Malcolm Bradbury (Di Agostini, 1996).

[11] Writing in the London Review of Books, Sugrue continued, “Media accounts gave the impression that small cells of activists – like CORE’s Freedom Riders – were larger, better organised and more powerful than they were. The black freedom struggle in the 1940s was every bit as large (or small) as it was in the early 1960s. The difference was magnification through the camera lens”. Thomas Sugrue reviews Freedom Riders by Raymond Arsenault, LRB, 5 October 2006.



Original photographs of Martin Luther King © 1963, 1965 Dan Budnik

Photos of book and review text © 2015 Graham Harrison

Browse more Photo Books