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Witness to History: Selma Photography of Stephen Sommerstein

February 26, 2022 – May 15, 2022

Stephen Somerstein (b.1941)

Two thousand marchers set out March 21 along Route 80, known as the “Jefferson Davis Highway.” After two failed attempts to complete the march, President Lyndon B. Johnson dispatched federal and state troops to guard the demonstrators along the way to the state capitol, 54 miles away. By the time the marchers reached Montgomery, their number had grown to 25,000.

 

Hearing of the events, 24-year-old student photographer Stephen Somerstein jumped on a bus in New York City and headed to Alabama. He arrived on March 25, in time for the final march to the state capitol. With five cameras around his neck and only 15 rolls of film, Somerstein seemed to be everywhere at once documenting this pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. He captured photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent activists such as Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, John Lewis, and Joan Baez. Somerstein also took poignant portraits of his fellow demonstrators, as well as the anonymous bystanders who had gathered along the route to observe the civil action in progress.

 

The exhibition explores the historic 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, civil rights march – a turning point in the civil rights movement that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The exhibition, guest curated by Farrah Spott, presents 55 of the black and white photographs taken through the lens of photographer Stephen Somerstein on March 25, 1965, accompanied by his commentary of the day’s events.

 

In addition to hosting this national traveling exhibition, the Upcountry History Museum will include an in-house companion exhibition exploring the reaction and impact of the Selma to Montgomery march on the Upstate, SC’s civil rights movement.