Staring straight ahead while carrying an oversized flag the entire 54 mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama; 15 year old Lewis Marshall’s face is a mask of both terror and determination. This photo was taken on the third march for voting rights, after the first one was violently stopped by Dallas county troopers and a deputized posse of “all white males in Dallas county over the age of 21”, earning it the moniker “Bloody Sunday“. The second march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., turned back peacefully while awaiting a federal decision to protect the marchers from violence, though this retreat hurt MLK’s credibility. The third march, which this photo is taken from, was placed under federal protection by an judgement protecting the protesters under the articles of the first amendment, and after a commitment of action by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The march was legally limited to 300 marchers, but after Lewis Marshall picked up his flag he was declared a “marshall” and marched with the group. By the time the protest had reached Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, it had swelled to over 23,000 souls.
I believe this photo is important as we grapple with old questions about voter rights and voter suppression, about rights to protest and what forms of protest are protected and as Americans contemplate what are the values that define our country and who we include in that definition. These times, in the sixties, were the first blows against the idea of a single, homogenous America. It was the root of the idea that America, and Americans, were not one single thing, but many things, all joined together in the common purpose of living in prosperity and peace. That road has not ended, and the challenges Americans face as the country grows is not easy; as we see the #BlackLivesMatter protestors being disdainfully treated by the media, we see the disparity in the way police encounters end for minorities, how disenfranchised these groups are in their right to vote, and American’s must ask themselves if the work of the Civil Rights movement is truly done. There is a great push back against change; there always is, in every time and in every place. But to look at young Lewis Marshall’s face in this photo, you can see the values Americans treasure: bravery, determination, and the conviction to stand up for what is right. That tells me that there is hope, for an America that is not just one thing, but many things: unified in it’s agreement on basic principles of freedom.
The photo was taken by James H. Karales, who was a photojournalist for Look Magazine, and covered the civil rights movement during the 60’s. This photo is 12 1/2 x 16 1/2 inches and is housed at the High Museum of Art Atlanta, though not on display at the time of this post. The photo above is a selection of an image of the original found on the Google Cultural Institute, and may be accessed by clicking on the image or here.