PUB: Seeing through Race: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography by Martin Berger

Martin A. Berger, “Seeing through Race: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011)

Seeing through Race is a boldly original reinterpretation of the iconic photographs of the black civil rights struggle. Martin A. Berger’s provocative and groundbreaking study shows how the very pictures credited with arousing white sympathy, and thereby paving the way for civil rights legislation, actually limited the scope of racial reform in the 1960s. Berger analyzes many of these famous images—dogs and fire hoses turned against peaceful black marchers in Birmingham, tear gas and clubs wielded against voting-rights marchers in Selma—and argues that because white sympathy was dependent on photographs of powerless blacks, these unforgettable pictures undermined efforts to enact—or even imagine—reforms that threatened to upend the racial balance of power

“Seeing Through Race is an indispensable and highly original account of how white Americans understood and remembered the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Berger shows us why photography was so central to civil rights, and his readings of iconic images are always penetrating and at times brilliant. His central argument, that whites wanted to be in charge of the movement, is complemented with rich insights on almost every page. It should be required reading for anyone interested in protest movements.”

—John Stauffer, Chair of the History of American Civilization and Professor of English and African and African American Studies at Harvard University

“The fervor of the 1960s civil rights movement may seem outdated by now, but terrible scenes enacted on the streets of Selma and Birmingham are preserved in the mass of surviving news photographs. Martin Berger argues that these pictures were never simple visual documents. By awakening the nation to the horrific violence of fire hoses and attack dogs, they defined what was meant by “civil rights movement.” Always engaging in its narrative as well as in its analytical and theoretical discourse, Seeing through Race is a stunning achievement both as history and as criticism.”

—Alan Trachtenberg, Neil Gray, Jr. Professor Emeritus of English and American Studies at Yale University


Author: Camara Dia Holloway

I am an art historian specializing in early twentieth century American art with particular focus on the history of photography, race and representation, and transatlantic modernist networks. I earned my PhD at Yale University in the History of Art Department. Besides my leadership role as the Founding Co-Director of the Association for Critical Race Art History (ACRAH), I am recognized for my expertise on African American Art, particularly African American Photography, and as a seasoned consultant for exhibitions, museum collections, and symposia/lectures planning.

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