Faces of Freedom Summer: The Photographs of Herbert Randall
"They came to Mississippi from everywhere that summer of 1964 to join with local African-American citizens in a national effort to make American democracy work. They would call it Mississippi Freedom Summer."
One of those who came was Herbert Eugene Randall, Jr., a young African- and Native American photographer, then twenty-eight, who came from New York City, hidden for his own safety under a blanket in the back seat of a car, to document Freedom Summer. He was not a photojournalist or a staff photographer for one of the civil rights organizations, but an artist with a camera. In the 1960s, Mississippi was one of the poorest states in the nation and had a dismal record of black voting rights violations. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sent volunteers into Mississippi during the summer of 1964, a presidential election year, to organize an education and voter registration drive. It was Sandy Leigh, SNCC director in Hattiesburg, who persuaded Randall to spend his John Hay Whitney Fellowship for Creative Photography in Mississippi that summer.
Mississippi Freedom Summer is now considered one of the milestones of the Civil Rights Movement. Yet Randall's photographs endure as more than simply documentation of this tumultuous moment in our nation's history. They capture the human drama of people making the extraordinarily courageous decision to persistently risk their livelihood and their personal safety to claim their right to vote. These photographs show both their courage and their despair, the resoluteness and the discouragement that characterize such human endeavor.
With the exception of a few pictures released during Freedom Summer to the national wire services, most of the photographs in the exhibition have never been seen until now - not even by Randall, who did not print them at the time. In 1998, he donated the 1,759 negatives to the Archives of The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, which organized this traveling exhibition of 100 black-and-white photographs now on a national tour. A book on this body of work, with an introduction by USM University Archivist Bobs M. Tusa, is slated for publication by the University of Alabama Press in February, 2001.
Reared in the Bronx, New York, the second of three children of Herbert Randall, Sr., a factory worker, and Jane Hunter, a homemaker, Randall began taking pictures in junior college before getting married and fathering a son. He taught high school photography in New York City for fifteen years, and then in 1981 moved to the Shinnecock Indian reservation in Southampton, N.Y., where he worked as a school bus driver and custodian. Randall's photographs are included in many major museum collections in the United States, most notably the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Library of Congress.
The exhibition Faces of Freedom Summer: The Photographs of Herbert Randall has been organized by the University of Southern Mississippi Museum of Art, Hattiesburg, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the Mississippi Humanities Council. Its presentation at The Parrish is made possible with generous support from the Albert and Bessie Warner Fund.