In 1963, Danny Lyon graduated from the University of Chicago and accepted as an official photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The Queens native documented many of SNCC's most significant moments, including the
In Everybody Says Freedom: A History of the Civil Rights Movement in Songs and Pictures, Lyon recalls hitchhiking to Cairo, Illinois to photograph John Lewis. The young photographer knew activists in Chicago, but in Lewis he saw "somebody [who] put action where their mouth was." The photograph of Lewis kneeling in prayer was taken in front of a segregated pool where local white people shouted and heckled the activists.
In the following fall, Lyon went to Greenwood, Mississippi to cover voter registration, and then later to Danville, Virginia. While Lyon's photographs document the activists we now know as leaders - Lewis, Jim Forman, and Diane Nash - they also pay tribute to the grassroots power of the organization. "SNCC didn't lead the movement," recalled Lyon. "At best, the leaders scrambled to catch up with the people in the streets and in the churches - usually high school students, people who are completely anonymous, whose names you've never heard."