“I Am Man” exhibit displays civil rights history in Old State Capitol

"I Am Man" exhibit displays civil rights history in Old State Capitol
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“I Am A Man: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1960–1970” is traveling exhibit currently open for viewing on the second floor of the Old State Capitol. 

The building’s long spiral staircase leads you up to the exhibit, and the first image you see is a door with a sign that reads “negros stay way.”

The exhibit stretches across two rooms and features both black and white and color photos . Michael Hollins, building security officer, said he has been working at the Old State Capitol for 18 years. 

Hollins pointed out a specific image that drew his attention. This photo was taken by James “Jim” Peppler, a news photographer for The Southern Courier,  during the Civil Rights Movement. The image depicts four white men sitting on top of a billboard post as they smile and watch the March Against Fear through Mississippi in 1966.

“The images are real. Certain ones stand out. When you look at an image, you can almost place yourself where they are,” Hollins said. 

Lauren Davis, museum curator and historian, said she likes to find exhibits that highlight moments when people were fighting for rights.  

Davis said the exhibit was given to the Old State Capitol by Mid America Arts Alliance. The alliance is a non-profit organization that provides grants to artists and blends community with the arts.  

The “I Am A Man” exhibit was put together with photos selected by William Ferris and his research team. Ferris is a southern folklorist and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

The poster hangs on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2023, in the Old State Capital on North Blvd in Baton Rouge, La.

Davis said the exhibit covers a wide range of stories and people, not just a specific event. One historic moment that called out to her was the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There is a photo in the exhibit that shows a picture of Dr. King’s opened briefcase from the day he was assassinated in 1968. 

This photo was taken by Ernest Withers, a Black photojournalist who documented more than 60 years of Black history in the segregated South. In the briefcase, there are papers, a non-perishable can and a copy of Dr. King’s book “Strength to Love.”

“This is what he was talking about, justice and equality,” Davis said. “The book is just sitting there. It could’ve been propped up for the photograph. But then, someone goes and chooses violence.”

Suzanne Hall, a tourist from Connecticut and observer of the exhibit, said the cruise ship she was on took a stop in Baton Rouge. Hall then found herself in the Old State Capitol. 

“We decided to take the shuttle bus into town and walk around. We came past this beautiful building on the corner, so I said let’s go in and let’s get warm,” Hall said. 

While a lot of Louisiana’s architecture is grand and beautiful, there is a dark and murky history that runs through its blueprint. 

“We rarely have anything Black to talk about in the capitol, to keep it 100,” Hollins said. “We have a picture of Pinchback, and you gotta look up the story of Pinchback,” Hollins said. 

According to the Secretary of State’s website, P.B.S Pinchback was the first Black man to serve as governor of Louisiana in 1872. Pinchback helped lay the groundwork to establish Southern University when he pushed for the creation of colleges for Black students in Louisiana at the Constitutional Convention of 1879. 

Davis said the Old State Capitol wanted to add pieces of their own that highlighted the fight for civil rights specifically in Louisiana. The 105-Mile March For Civil Rights was a protest led by Civil Rights Activists A.Z. Young, Gayle Jenkins and Robert Hicks in 1967.

They marched from Bogalusa to Baton Rouge in the span of 10 days. By the time they reached Baton Rouge, their numbers had grown from 25 to more than 600 people, according to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail website. 

Photos of news clips from the event are framed and hung alongside the other pictures. Davis said because these photos belong to the Old State Capitol, they will not leave with the rest of the exhibit. 

The collection also features a vintage dress from the ‘60s. Davis said it belonged to the mother of a staff member at the Old State Capitol. The dress is covered in vibrant yellow and purple flowers. Next to it, there is a question on the wall that asks, “What did the ‘60s look like to you?” 

“Well, clearly I am white,” Davis said with a laugh. “My mother talked about the ‘60s and you know, it was fun and there was this vision of being rattle and trying new things. But there was this whole other world happening.” 

I Am A Man Exhibit

Photos sit on the wall on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2023, in the Old State Capital on North Blvd in Baton Rouge, La.

Davis said there was hesitation to put some of the photos up. Specifically, photos that displayed confederate flags. However, the Old State Capitol staff decided that they all needed to be up for historical context, Davis said. 

While there are many grim photos in the exhibit, Davis said there are still photos that capture humanity and joy. She said she is particularly drawn to a photo taken by Doris Derby, an American activist and documentary photographer who died in 2022. 

The picture was taken during the ‘60s and depicts a little boy in a preschool program being examined by a doctor. 

“I have a 3 year old myself. And then it’s like, look at that sweet face. That could be anybody’s kid,” Davis said.          

The “I Am Man” exhibit will be displayed in the Old State Capitol from now until March 16. 


About Mary Weyand 14963 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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