On Monday, August 3, 2015, Robert R. Newlen, chief of staff for the Library of Congress moderated a discussion between renowned photojournalist Bob Adelman and retired executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Ira Glasser in the Library of Congress Mumford Room. Newlen expressed his high regard for Adelman and Glasser’s life-long commitment to social justice and civil rights, noting Adelman’s talent for artistically capturing social justice movements in photographic form and Glasser’s 34 years of service at the ACLU.
At the start of the program, Newlen asked the guests to describe the impetus of their 1991 book, “Visions of Liberty: The Bill of Rights for All Americans.” The book features Glasser’s in-depth historical account of the Bill of Rights beginning with its origins in the 1215 Magna Carta and an examination of individual liberties protected by the Bill of Rights (freedom of religion, speech, religion, fair legal proceedings, and racial equality), along with Adelman’s poignant photographs.
Glasser shared that it was Adelman who approached him about writing the text for the book. They both recognized this as a unique opportunity to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights while sharing the compelling story of the struggle for human rights. Glasser explained that he hesitated initially because he was working 95 hours a week for the ACLU, but finally agreed and saw how Adelman’s photographs could “illustrate that which words cannot.”
During the program, a sampling of Adelman’s photographs were shown to the audience. There were photographs of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. during the March from Selma to Montgomery, along with Adelman’s emotionally gripping photograph of African-American protesters enduring the overwhelming force of water hoses turned on them by police and firemen at Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park. Adelman recalled the brutality of the scene, and Glasser discussed the illusion that racial discrimination was occurring only in the South. He described how labor unions in the North were used as a “racial exclusion instrument” because blacks and other minorities were not permitted to join, which hindered them from employment opportunities.
Glasser also discussed how Jackie Robinson, the first African-American major league baseball player, created a new sense of humanity when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947: for the “first time blacks and whites were clapping, hugging and rooting for the same thing in public,” he said. In addition to Adelman’s photographs from the civil rights movement, his photographs of the women’s rights protests of the 1970s, along with anti-war and gay rights demonstrations, were shown. Adelman said he “photographed things he cared about,” and as a photojournalist “you have to be mindful about how you interpret photographs,” he said.
Glasser concluded the program by sharing that over the course of his career, he has often heard whites share that they were not personally responsible for the racial discrimination that occurred during the civil rights era. He acknowledged that this may be true, but said he reminded them “they benefited from the discrimination,” and therefore they have a “moral obligation to care about equality for everyone.” Glasser and Adelman both acknowledged that the struggle of liberty for all is an on-going struggle.
The program was presented in conjunction with the Library’s exhibition, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964, A Long Struggle for Freedom.” Co-hosted by the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division, its Interpretive Programs Office and the Law Library of Congress, this event was made possible by a generous donation from Roberta I. Shaffer.
It’s always a pleasure to read you, Liah! Always interesting and well-written.