Bob Fitch snapped this picture of a sheriff’s deputy pursuing photographer Matt Herron during a protest in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1966. Courtesy the Bob Fitch Photography Archive.
Ben Marks of Collectors Weekly says: "My colleague Hunter Oatman-Stanford has just published an article about the photographers who documented the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s. These photographers, Hunter learned, were deeply committed to the cause of Civil Rights, but their job was not be be heroes—they were expected to get their photos back to the offices of CORE, SNCC, and the NAACP, so they could be distributed to publications around the country in order to get the message out about what was going on down South."
Although organizations like SNCC supplied photos to both black and white publications, almost all their photographers were white men, which seems surprising for a group promoting integration at all levels of society. “With very few exceptions, we were white,” says Matt Herron, another prominent civil-rights photographer. “It was obviously very dangerous for a black photographer to shoot a demonstration or some public event. Also, to be a freelance photographer in those days, particularly a photojournalist, it required equipment, money, and spare time to teach yourself the craft. Those resources were not generally available to black kids.”
Herron had previously worked for Kodak in Rochester, New York, where he’d become one of Minor White’s students, learning the ins and outs of developing, printing, and photographic aesthetics. Through White, Herron would eventually meet his mentor, Dorothea Lange, who encouraged his interest in social documentary photography. By the early 1960s, Herron was freelancing as a photographer, pitching stories to magazines like “LIFE” and “Look.” “Dorothea convinced me that photography could be not just a profession but a way of life, and that I could marry my social concerns to my desire to be a photographer,” Herron says.
Following in the footsteps of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers of the 1930s, Herron formed the Southern Documentary Project, a group of five photographers dedicated to recording everyday life under segregation. “In the summer of ’64, the five of us traveled throughout the South but mostly in Mississippi, shooting the major events of the Freedom Summer, but also, more broadly, trying to document what black life was like in the South,” says Herron. His most recent book, Mississippi Eyes, tells the story of that tumultuous summer.