Saturday, December 3, 2022

Commentary: University exhibition acknowledges contributions of everyday people in the Civil Rights Movement

Arts and CultureCommentary: University exhibition acknowledges contributions of everyday people in the Civil Rights Movement

Staff Reporter

Famous names like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X often come up during conversations about the Civil Rights Movement, and while those figures are important, solely focusing on them overshadows the contributions of everyday people.

This is one reason why Shelby Daniels-Young, a Pauline A. Young resident for the university’s Special Collections, found it so important to create an exhibition that showcases the hard work of average citizens during the Civil Rights Movement.

“I thought it might be interesting to give other people that perspective on looking at the work that went into the different organizations and basically the day-to-day minutiae of activism that people were involved in,” Daniels-Young said.

“Everyday People: Highlights of the Civil Rights Movement from the Beverly Axelrod Papers” is located outside of the Special Collections Gallery in the Lincoln Exhibition Case in Morris Library. The exhibition is open to the public from Feb. 8 to May 14 during the library’s regular operating hours, and a virtual version is available online.

There are a total of nine documents in the exhibition taken from The Beverly Axelrod Papers, a collection of documents that represent the work done by Beverly Axelrod, an attorney who provided legal support to groups such as the Black Panther Party during the 1960s and 1970s.

“I thought that was very interesting because it gave sort of a behind the scenes look at the Civil Rights Movement [because] she’s not a famous figure,” Daniels-Young said.

The exhibition showcases pamphlets, letters, newspapers and other paper documents related to events, groups and people that Axelrod was connected with.

One such pamphlet, the Nonviolence pamphlet published by Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), lays out rules and organization strategies that were used during protests, and featuring these types of documents was especially important to Daniels-Young.

“I also chose publications by different civil rights organizations because they would publish these newsletters to circulate to their different chapters all across the country,” Daniels-Young said. “So that gives insight into how they were planning their next moves.”

The exhibit also features a manual that details the organization of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The manual lists what organizations would be supporting the event and what these organizations needed to accomplish before the march took place. It discusses when and where the march was and how to get there.

“I really wanted people to understand and gain respect for underappreciated people who are just ordinary people who felt like they needed to do something to change the world that they were living in, to represent that it was not necessarily the most glamorous work, but it is necessary in activism,” Daniels-Young said.

The online portion of the exhibition is broken up into five pages, containing pictures of all nine documents with explanations for each. The online format is extremely easy to navigate as you simply click through each page, and it’s conveniently accessible from your home.

The in-person version of the exhibition is in a small glass case. Inside, the nine documents are either propped up onto platforms or laid flat down on glass shelves. Next to each document, there are printed descriptions of the documents.

The exhibition is definitely eye-catching due to the dainty glass case and delicate documents. However, it is tucked away in a corner on the second floor of Morris Library, where people may overlook the opportunity to view it as they pass by. I personally had a difficult time locating the exhibition and needed to ask a librarian for guidance. I feel that the contents of this exhibition are valuable, and perhaps it would have been better suited for a more public setting, like somewhere on the first floor.

Visiting the exhibition in person certainly adds something more to the documents. When you see them in person, you can really take in their age, the different colors of paper and ink and various hand writings, making the exhibition visually appealing and engaging.

I found the March on Washington manual particularly striking because discussions about the march often focus on Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which overlooks the tireless efforts of those who organized the event itself. It was inspiring to imagine the people that worked tirelessly to create and mail hundreds of thousands of these pamphlets.

This exhibition shines a light onto the fact that in every major movement, there are thousands of uncredited people who dedicate significant amounts of their time to fighting injustice. We can never forget that that change doesn’t occur passively or only through a select group of people. Change happens actively with the support of countless others, and this point is evident within the “Everyday People” exhibition.


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