Fire hoses being used on civil rights demonstrators, Birmingham, Alabama, 1963.

Charles Moore, Photojournalist

Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore

The African American Civil Rights time period in the United States was an era filled with suffering and endurance. Charles Moore captured those feelings in his iconic photograph. When viewing images, the eye normally goes straight to the middle. The water in the middle of the photograph is the cause of the suffering of the protestors. Yet, they endured through that same water to get the rights that many African Americans enjoy today. Typically, water is thought of as a symbol of purity; however, Charles Moore flips that traditional symbolism 180 degrees and makes water a symbol of pain and misery.

A good image is one that makes someone think. Recently, the images coming out of Ferguson, Missouri have made many Americans stop and think about the “militarization of America’s police force.” Former US Senator Jacob Javits of New York said that Moore’s images from the Civil Rights time period “helped to spur the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1984.” This image has relevance and significance because it is still used today when news organizations use photographs to provide a history when highlighting the dark past that the United States has of racism and mistreatment of minorities.


7 thoughts on “Birmingham”

  1. I agree with you that this photo still plays an important part in American culture today. Not only does it evoke vivid images of police brutality, but it reminds Americans of a time when racial injustice was commonplace. This image is also deeply connected to current events, as aforementioned in your analysis. Perhaps protestors in Ferguson still feel as if police brutality and injustice is still occurring, but in different forms. In the 1960’s this image and others inflamed racial tensions around the country and led to reform, do you think the images coming out of Ferguson will do the same?

  2. Hey Zach.

    Thanks for commenting on my post. I certainly do think the images coming out of Ferguson will invoke pressure on legislatures and Congress to make change. Call me an idealist, but images like this one: can’t and shouldn’t exist in the United States. Also on a sidenote, the photojournalist who took that image was later arrested. The arrest was due for “failure to disperse”. That was the cause for many of the arrests in Ferguson. Ferguson didn’t only bring up issues about racial disparities, it also brought up issues of press freedom and people’s first amendment right to protest. All these issues must be addressed if the United States still wants to be looked at as the beacon of democracy and freedom.

  3. I agree that this image is a striking picture of the violence used against the Black population in the Civil Rights Era, and that the police force today is very over-militarized. One thing different that I want to add is that I believe that the Ferguson coverage has been sensationalized. Yes, the police is over-militarized, yes there is police brutality, and yes the police do overstep their bounds, but the police did protect large number of people and stop looting (for the most part). There were no pictures of that, nor of the food and supply drive in the area.

  4. Gunnar, I agree, you don’t see news or pictures of the police being helpful, but that’t unfortunately not what Americans want to see. The police doing their job won’t make the media, but doing the wrong thing will make the media. That sort of culture we have needs to change. Yes, it is valuable to find instances where the police are not serving the American people correctly, but it is also valuable to point out where the police have done amazing things. I know that the police should not receive recognition for just doing their job, but the negative news that comes out about the police needs to end.

  5. Gunnar- I would push back on that. On a lot of the news media outlets, Captain Ron Johnson got a lot of attention on how he handled the situation. A lot of the members of the community came up to him and personally thanked him. This WAS caught on video and posted on TV. There was also coverage of community leaders organizing voting registration drives. So again I would push back on your comment but I guess your opinion is based on what news outlets you watch.

    Harley- I am from Philadelphia. We have a crime problem in the city and the news coverage there isn’t just about bad police. There are stories of police members helping out in the community and also participating in community events.

    I think that also we must understand why a story become national news. Stories become national news because they are bizarre or really important. Ferguson is one of the stories that fits under the bizarre category. There was no police report done. The police officer had a different narrative of how the event went than 5 other eyewitness who all tell the same account. The police put out incriminating information that they later said had nothing to do with the incident. So there are many reasons why this story become major news. Just a really bizarre one was the fact that Ferguson imposed a rule that the people could protest but they had to keep walking which makes no sense.

    We must remember that this story followed basically in the immediate aftermath of the police officer in New York killing Eric Garner by use of “choke hold”. And in the past year we have had some really high profile murder cases of black youth. So I can understand why the story did reach the hype that it did.

    There are reasons why one can say the story was over sensationalized. People have said that the large media presence contributed to the bad behavior people did just because they wanted to get on TV. I personally would rather the story be covered too much than the story not being covered at all. Maybe that’s the political communication major in me speaking, but an informed populous is better than an ignorant one.

  6. Before reading any comments, I also immediately thought of Ferguson. I do realize that the police can bring peace and justice to parts of America and in some areas do aim to do the correct thing, but there is no excuse for what happened in Ferguson and it is in no way being over-sensationalized. In fact, I feel like information about Ferguson should be coming out in the media with increasing speed and detail.

    Here we are, exactly 50 years after Lyndon B Johnson enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and nearly 150 years after the 14th and 15th amendments were passed, aiming to abolish inequality among races in America. Yesterday marked 51 years since Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Decades and centuries are passed, and just a few weeks ago Americans across the country woke up to find news everywhere displaying events of terrible police racism. Too much time has passed and things have not even come near to reaching an acceptable place. In my opinion, we don’t hear enough about racism in the legal system on the daily news.

  7. It’s really depressing that there are still things like this happening today. Racism, especially in the south, is far from dead. Just like many of the comments have mentioned already, Ferguson is still fresh on everyone’s minds and there are several parallels between Ferguson and what is going on in this image. While I’m happy how about how far we have come concerning civil rights and racism in America, I wish we could be farther along. We still have a long way to go.

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