News / Arts & Entertainment

    America's Civil Rights Legends Honored at National Museum

    New exhibit features some of the men and women who changed the course of U.S. history

    In this wooden sculpture by Marshall D. Rumbaugh, Rosa Parks is held by two policemen.  Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white male bus rider in Montgomery, Alabama.
    In this wooden sculpture by Marshall D. Rumbaugh, Rosa Parks is held by two policemen. Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white male bus rider in Montgomery, Alabama.

    Multimedia

    On August 28, 1963, a quarter-million Americans marched in the streets of Washington demanding racial equality and freedom. At the time, it was the largest civil rights demonstration in U.S. history.

    It was during this march when civil rights champion Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech advocating racial harmony.

    The March for Jobs and Freedom, as it was called, was organized by civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph, who spent a lifetime fighting for the economic empowerment of African-Americans.

    Portrait of Asa Philip Randolph by Ernest Hamlin Baker (National Portrait Gallery-Smithsonian Institution)
    Portrait of Asa Philip Randolph by Ernest Hamlin Baker (National Portrait Gallery-Smithsonian Institution)

    Major figures in civil rights history

    Randolph and King are among dozens of civil rights leaders showcased in a new exhibit at The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

    The exhibit features over 40 paintings, photographs, sculptures and other art forms of key figures from the 19th and 20th century who fought to empower African-Americans, women, Native Americans, farm workers, gays, lesbians and the disabled.

    There are photographs of slavery abolitionist Frederick Douglass and educator Booker T. Washington, a former slave who went on to become one of the most important African-American leaders of his time.

    Sociologist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois, who is portrayed in a pastel portrait, is well known for his ground-breaking book, "The Souls of Black Folk," which described what it was like to be African-American at the turn of the 20th century.

    The book is still read by students, black and white, across America. 

    W.E.B. Du Bois, pastel on paper, by Winold Reiss (National Portrait Gallery- Smithsonian Institution)
    W.E.B. Du Bois, pastel on paper, by Winold Reiss (National Portrait Gallery- Smithsonian Institution)

    Opposing approaches to empowerment

    Sidney Hart, a senior historian at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, says unlike Booker T. Washington who advocated accommodation and gradualism, Du Bois called for immediate civil and political rights for African-Americans.  

    Hart says these two leaders represented opposite branches of the African-American struggle for civil rights.

    "Two of the most important characters: Du Bois, the Harvard-educated cosmopolitan, cerebral thinker; Washington, born a slave, and working himself up," he says.

    Hart says the museum wanted both men featured in the exhibit, "to represent the two opposite poles of civil rights."

    In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested when she refused to give her seat to a white male bus rider in Montgomery, Alabama. This sparked a boycott of the city's bus system.

    The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring segregation on buses were unconstitutional.

    Parks is featured in the exhibit in a large, wooden sculpture where she is seen being held by two policemen. Parks is painted in bright primary colors, and is proportionately larger than the other two figures, who've been painted in more subdued colors.

    Farm workers unite

    The exhibit also features César Chávez, a Mexican-American farm worker who led a series of protests in the 1960s against the unfair treatment of migrant workers. He and fellow activist Dolores Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) which launched a nationwide boycott of California grapes to improve working conditions for grape pickers. 

    'The Return of Aztlan,' by Alfredo Arreguin, features activists César Chávez (lower left), Dolores Huerta (right) and Emiliano Zapata (center) © Alfredo M. Arreguin
    'The Return of Aztlan,' by Alfredo Arreguin, features activists César Chávez (lower left), Dolores Huerta (right) and Emiliano Zapata (center) © Alfredo M. Arreguin

    According to Ann Shumard, curator of photographs at The National Portrait Gallery, their movement expanded well beyond the West Coast to become a nationwide organization supporting labor opportunities and rights for migrant and agricultural workers.  

    Chavez and Delores Huerta are commemorated in a painting called "The Return to Aztlan," which also depicts images of Emiliano Zapata, leader of the Mexican revolution, and Jose Maria Morelos and Miguel Hidalgo, both leaders in the war for Mexican independence.

    Native Americans are "still here"

    Leonard Crow Dog fought for greater rights for Native Americans and is regarded by many as the spiritual leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), an organization of Native American activists that was founded in 1968.

    (National Portrait Gallery-Smithsonian Institution)
    (National Portrait Gallery-Smithsonian Institution)

    Crow Dog is represented in the exhibit through a poster bearing his image.

    According to Frank Goodyear, associate curator of photographs at The National Portrait Gallery, the poster was part of the publicity materials that the American Indian movement generated.

    There is a slogan under Crow Dog's portrait that reads, "We  are still here," which Goodyear explains was a symbolic reminder to Americans that Native Americans had not vanished; that these tribal communities were still present, but simply lacked visibility in the larger American public.

    According to Goodyear, Crow Dog not only advocated demonstrations to promote Native American rights, but also encouraged Native Americans to "re-engage with their traditions."

    "He suggested the importance of Native Americans looking back to their heritage, to their traditions and finding strength in that history," he says.

    Goodyear says it was largely because of the efforts of the American Indian Movement that Congress passed the "Indian Self-determination and Education" act in 1975.

    "A landmark piece of civil rights legislation that reasserts tribal sovereignty, and establishes the tribal college system which remains today a really important element in Native American communities," he says.

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton (left) and Susan B. Anthony (right), Albumen silver print, by Napoleon Sarony
    Elizabeth Cady Stanton (left) and Susan B. Anthony (right), Albumen silver print, by Napoleon Sarony

    Women get the vote

    In 1920, after a long and difficult struggle, American women finally gained the right to vote.

    The seeds of that historic victory were sewn by women's rights activists Lucretia Coffin Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

    They are represented in the exhibit through historic photographs.

    There is also a large oil painting of Carrie Chapman Catt, another leading figure in the women's rights movement. In 1900, she replaced Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).

    Carrie Chapman Catt, oil on canvas, by Mary Eliot Foote (National Portrait Gallery-Smithsonian Institution)
    Carrie Chapman Catt, oil on canvas, by Mary Eliot Foote (National Portrait Gallery-Smithsonian Institution)

    It was Catt who led the organization during its successful passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which guaranteed all American women the right to vote.

    The heroic individuals showcased in this exhibit fought hard to achieve justice and equality for their fellow Americans.

    They are remembered not only for the battles they waged but for the groundwork they laid for struggles that remain to be won.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

    New in Music Alley

    Soul Lounge: Sweet Honey in the Rocki
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    February 10, 2016 1:48 PM
    For over 40 years Sweet Honey In The Rock has entertained audiences around the globe with their signature blend of Blues, African, Gospel and R&B. The Grammy award winning group stopped by The Soul Lounge to perform and share their story as well as how they plan to keep African American musical traditions alive.

    For over 40 years Sweet Honey In The Rock has entertained audiences around the globe with their signature blend of Blues, African, Gospel and R&B.   The Grammy award winning group stopped by The Soul Lounge to perform and share their story as well as how they plan to keep African American musical traditions alive.