Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail

February 27 – April 12, 2015

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. looks out at crowd in Montgomery, 1965. Copyright Stephen Somerstein.

The Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights marches of 1965 marked the political and emotional peak of the American Civil Rights Movement. They began with Bloody Sunday, a violent encounter with a police force armed with bullwhips and cattle prods, and ended with the 54-mile procession from Selma to the state house in Montgomery. Covered extensively through published photographs and broadcast television, the marches triggered national outrage over the treatment of black Americans and pushed President Johnson to send voting-rights legislation to Congress.

This exhibition documents the quest for democracy and social justice through 45 photographs from the archives of Stephen Somerstein. At the time he took the photos, Somerstein was a student at the City College of New York and the editor-in-chief and picture editor of the school’s newspaper. His photographs reveal the nonviolent discipline of the marchers and the movement’s leaders, and depict the Alabama onlookers who found themselves at the heart of a national battle.

As present-day demonstrations against racial injustice occupy the nation’s attention, Somerstein’s photographs illuminate a resonant chapter in the civil rights struggle.

Tuesday, March 10

  • 7 p.m. Film Screening: Selma (2014), PG-13, 2 hr, 8 min. Viking Theater, Buntrock Commons

Wednesday, March 11

  • 7 p.m. Film Screening: Selma (2014), PG-13, 2 hr, 8 min. Viking Theater, Buntrock Commons

Thursday, March 12

  • 4 p.m. Lecture: Memorializing the Civil Rights Movement with Michael W. Fitzgerald, Professor of History, St. Olaf College, Dittmann Center 305.

Professor Michael Fitzgerald’s Interim 2015 course, History 296: Experiencing Southern History, examines how Alabama’s official sites of memory – museums, monuments, and memorials – reflect the competing demands of politics, public attitudes, schools and tourism. Fitzgerald frames this exhibition within the political context of Alabama in 1965 and draws on his course’s week-long Alabama visit to examine how the Civil Rights Movement ins memorialized 50 years later.

  • 5-7 p.m. Reception. Flaten Art Museum, Dittmann Center.

The Gospel Choir of St. Olaf performs traditional freedom songs of the movement, which mobilized and inspired participants in the civil rights struggle.

This exhibition and related events are generously supported by the Glen H. and Shirley Beito Gronlund Annual Exhibition Series Fund and presented in conjunction with The Long Walk Home: 50 Years climbing the Hill to Equality, a series of events marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, and paying tribute to St. Olaf College Alumnus James Reeb ’51, who not only answered Martin Luther King Jr’s call for clergy to engage in the civil rights struggle, but lost his life to the cause.

Museum closed March 28 – April 6 for Spring Break.