Faces of the Civil Rights Movement: An Exhibition of Selected Images from Danny Lyon’s time with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee

Tuhin Chakraborty


Danny Lyon
The University of Mississippi campus when James Meredith tried to register as the first black student there
gelatin silver print
11 in x 14 in (27.94 cm x 35.56 cm)
Gift of Thomas Wilson '79 and Jill Garling '80

Unlike many other pictures in this exhibit, Lyon provides his audience here with a glimpse into how those opposed to desegregation approached reforms. In 1962, the US Supreme Court ruled that black army veteran James Meredith could attend the then-segregated University of Mississippi. However, many white Mississippians, including governor Ross Barnett, were outraged by the decision and actively tried to stop Meredith. The patch on the officer’s shirt from this image reads “Mississippi Highway Patrol,” which establishes him as a state policeman under Governor Barnett, most likely sent to hinder Meredith. Moreover, his folded arms and annoyed expression clearly convey an attitude of anger and reticence, an anger shared by the other white people in this photograph as demonstrated by the man displaying a similar face and body language standing to the policeman’s right. However, the police officer, despite his obvious misgivings about the situation, chooses to stand back and watch instead of blocking Meredith. Therefore, with this astute, multifaceted portrayal of a member of the infamous white southern police at this time, Lyon sends the clear message that racial justice reforms, although not often appreciated, were finally making an impact in a previously segregated society.

-Tuhin Chakraborty


Danny Lyon
Arrest of Eddie Brown, Albany, Georgia
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Zoe and Yuri Gurevich
Gift Offer Number: GO2019.16.17 (Accession number not known at this time)

This image follows the James Meredith picture as it clearly shows what happens when such policemen are now actively acting against protesters, and what happens when the defiance shown in previous photographs is put to the test. Here, SNCC activist Eddie Brown Jr. is being arrested and forcibly dragged away by police after refusing to leave a protest. Lyon shows Brown’s face here to be eerily similar to John Lewis’s face in the pictures of Lewis in Nashville and Cairo in that the former’s solemn expression shows no less resolve than did latter’s, even though Brown is in a completely different position than Lewis, with his agency being humiliatingly stripped away. Additionally, Lyon conspicuously chose not to include the complete faces of almost all of the officers in this photo, and the one officer whose face is entirely shown is turning away while being obscured by a shadow. That being said, Lyon intentions here were to keep the attention on the activist and not his oppressors in order use the position of SNCC photographer to convey the racial justice mission of the SNCC as clearly as possible to Lyon’s audience.

-Tuhin Chakraborty, W20 HISTORY 379


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Last Updated

January 30, 2021 3:06 p.m.


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