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Photographs of the Southern Freedom Movement in the Alan Lomax Collection

Ever since the Civil Rights History Project Act was passed in 2009, archivists at the American Folklife Center have kept their eyes and ears open for items related to the Southern Freedom Movement as they process collections. Todd Harvey, curator of the Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004), recently noticed a folder of twenty-one photographs in the collection that were sent in a package from Guy Carawan of the Highlander Research and Education Center to folklorist Alan Lomax in 1992.

Carawan wrote to Lomax, “I’m sending you a packet of materials in which you are very much present. I especially wanted you to have the photographs from the workshop you helped with in Mississippi in 1965…. I hope you will enjoy them.” He also gave Lomax a copy of the flyer for the event. This three-day festival and workshop, titled “Sing for Freedom: Festival of Negro Folk Music and Freedom Songs,” was held at the former Mount Beulah plantation in Edwards, Mississippi, on May 7-9, 1965. Several civil rights organizations held training sessions at this location, which had also been the home of the Southern Christian Institute, a school for African Americans. The Delta Ministry of the National Council of Churches and the Highlander Folk School sponsored the event and invited “resource people” including Alan Lomax, the Georgia Sea Island Singers, the Moving Star Hall Singers, Doc Reese, Mississippi’s Ed Young and his fife and drum corps, blues singers, and Southern freedom singers. Participants learned folk songs and discussed how to keep African American traditions alive and incorporate them into the freedom struggle. In his letter, Carawan didn’t indicate who the photographer was and the reverse sides of them are blank. Here are three of them:

The Sing for Freedom Festival and Workshop, 1965. Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004)

The Sing for Freedom festival, Edwards, Mississippi, 1965. From the Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004) at the Library of Congress. Used courtesy of the Association for Cultural Equity. Photographer unknown.

Alan Lomax and Mable Hillary at the Sing for Freedom Festival and Workshop, 1965. Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004)

Alan Lomax and Mable Hillary of the Georgia Sea Island Singers at the Sing for Freedom festival, Edwards, Mississippi, 1965. From the Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004) at the Library of Congress. Used courtesy of the Association for Cultural Equity. Photographer unknown.

 

The Moving Hall Star Singers including Benjamin Bligen (third from left) with Guy Carawan (far right) at the Sing for Freedom Festival and Workshop, 1965. Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004)

The Moving Hall Star Singers including Benjamin Bligen (third from left) with Guy Carawan (far right) at the Sing for Freedom Festival and Workshop, 1965. Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004)

Note the recording equipment in the photos. This festival was recorded and the six or possibly seven audio reels are now held in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection as part of the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina’s Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library.

One photograph in the folder was captioned by Carawan, “Mississippi SNCC workers at conference at Tougaloo College, 1965. Jim Foreman [sic] in foreground.” Many former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) members have come to the Library of Congress recently to participate in our Civil Rights History Project public programs series, “Many Paths to Freedom: Looking Back, Looking Ahead at the Long Civil Rights Movement.” We asked one of our speakers, Charlie Cobb, and Tim Jenkins, another long-time activist, to identify individuals in the photograph. They were able to identify everyone in it (including Cobb himself), except the woman directly behind Hollis Watkins. (If you know who that person is, please drop us a line!)

From left to right, they are: Curtis (Hayes) Muhammad, James Jones, Jesse Harris, Wazir (Willie B.) Peacock, Charles McLaurin, Jimmie Travis, Samuel Block, MacArthur Cotton, Hollis Watkins, Dorie Ladner, and Charlie Cobb. James Forman kneels in the foreground.

Mississippi SNCC workers at conference at Tougaloo College. Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004)

Mississippi SNCC workers at conference at Tougaloo College, 1965. From the Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004) at the Library of Congress. Used courtesy of the Association for Cultural Equity. Photographer unknown.

We don’t know much about this conference at Tougaloo College, but like other SNCC meetings and training sessions, music was an important part of it. Like the other photographs, you can see an audio reel on the table, so it is likely the conference was recorded and may also be in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection at the University of North Carolina.

The video of Charlie Cobbs’s talk at the Library of Congress on his recently published book, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible is now available on the C-SPAN website. The Civil Rights History Project video oral history interview with Guy and Candie Carawan is also available online on the Library of Congress website.

8 Comments

  1. Patricia A. Atkinson
    June 26, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    What a great find!! Wonderful documentation of these early days of SNCC. Kudos, Todd!

  2. Kevin Stewart
    June 26, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    I may be in err but I believe the magazine OXFORD AMERICAN featured an article on a legendary folk signer who attended this conference. He (according to the article ) helped teach the words to the song WE SHALL OVER COME. If I am correct then I am excite because my casual reading and my having decided to get this newsletter suggest I am on one accord with my self education.

  3. Kate Stewart
    June 26, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    Thank you, Kevin. I think the conference you’re referring to took place at the Highlander Folk School itself in 1960. It is referenced in another blog post we did on We Shall Overcome: //blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2014/02/tracing-the-long-journey-of-we-shall-overcome/

  4. Deborah Menkart
    February 19, 2015 at 6:29 am

    Thanks for this great article and the photos. A colleague alerted us to one small typo in the description of the last photo. It should be “James Jones” – not — “Janes Jones.”

  5. Bill Stump
    October 9, 2015 at 12:29 am

    Interested in lomax’s souther journey music

  6. Erin Andrewlevich
    February 5, 2019 at 10:19 pm

    Is it known if and where these pictures were circulated? Are these personal photographs or were these used for something such as a newspaper?

    • Guha Shankar
      December 7, 2020 at 1:18 pm

      Hello Erin Andrewlevich, Thank you for your query and apologies for checking responses so much after the fact. I do not believe the photographs were circulated widely, at least not by the Library. They were the product of the Highlander Center and it was Guy Carawan at the Center who passed them on to Alan Lomax. We at AFC came across them when the curator, Todd Harvey, was processing the materials in the collection. The photographs were part of the documentation of the Center’s work with community workshops in the South, including recordings of the singing, but there was no specific intent to publish them at the time. You may yet see more on this topic on this blog site, if I can get the rights sorted out to the materials.

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