New York Historical Society presents Selma march photo exhibit

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Kemberly Richardson takes a look. (WABC)

An exhibit featuring dramatic photographs taken during the 1965 civil rights march in Alabama will open Friday at the New York Historical Society, and the man behind the pictures spoke to Eyewitness News.

"Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March" follows the pivotal from Selma to Montgomery through the photographs of Stephen Somerstein.

"Everything was happening very rapidly," he said. "I had never been south of Washington, D.C."

That all changed in March of 1965.

"We had triggered something, and we didn't know at that point whether the success would be manifest in their lifetime," he said.

Somerstein was just a 24-year-old photo editor at City College when he documented one of the pivotal moments in the civil rights movement. Over the course of five days, he photographed thousands of protesters as they marched 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery.

"I kind of felt like we were visitors in their world and that they would have to experience the results of what was accomplished during that march," he said. "And that had a profound impression on me."

So when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the signal, Somerstein hopped on a bus at Port Authority, started taking pictures and never stopped.

He took more than 400 photographs, and the 46 in the exhibition include images of marchers being cheered by black people and jeered by whites.

"I had to be very careful not to shoot too much, because I didn't want to run out of film," he said.

He said he rarely took more than one picture of something, except for certain special moments where he made sure to take backup shots.


Somerstein, who went on to become a physicist, said the event changed his view of America.

"City College was on the outskirts of Harlem, so I'd spent a fair amount of time going through Harlem and being in the midst of black communities," he said. "But as we moved through the south, one of the things that struck me was though there was clearly a rising black middle class, there was also incredible poverty along the way...and there were places...which I had never quite seen before except in photographs taken during the depression, and I thought that that time had passed, but apparently not."

The Voting Rights Act passed in 1965.

Some of Somerstein's photographs were exhibited for the first time in 2010 at the San Francisco Art Exchange.

The exhibition runs through April 19.

Visit NYHistory.org/exhibitions/the-1965-march for more information.





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