The Idea of an Essay, Volume 4

Analysis & Response 81 Racism in the 1960s: America’s Great Failure William Tomlinson We often feel assured that our nation will perform its duties and protect us from harm. Yet, through history we realize that the United States has not always fulfilled this role. One particular area of failure is civil rights. The exhibits in the John E. Fleming Gallery of the National Afro-American Museum in Wilberforce, Ohio bring to light much of America’s failures to protect both past and present civil rights. The gallery features silhouettes of black victims from the 1960s, to present day standing side by side. By showing these victims of racism together, the gallery effectively connects the issues of the past with the present. To illustrate the struggle for civil rights, the museum displays several photographs from that time period echoing the message of African Americans. One photograph, a 1965 archival print in the John E. Fleming Gallery, portrays America’s failure to protect civil rights and the hopeless plight of the black life through an effective setting, evocative text, and a powerful appeal to pathos. The photograph depicts five black women picketing in front of the White House. Despite peacefully standing there, their signs scream a message louder than they could ever vocalize. The signs read, “Negroes are Americans too, Protect them”, “Stop Brutality in Alabama” and, “Mr. President, How many must die before you act?” In addition to the disheartening messages, the photograph’s setting induces a sense of solemn hopelessness. Though the photograph is black and white, it captures the bleak feeling of a harsh winter day. Adding to this impression, the photograph captures one of the women walking away as though she has given up on her leader. Behind the women, stands the White House arrayed in all its glory, with the American flag flying high above the protestors. These women who face the photographer send a message: “Mr. President, do your duty.” The photograph’s layout effectively amplifies the women’s