Post Contributed by Caitlin Margaret Kelly, Curator, Archive of Documentary Arts & Director, Power Plant Gallery
When I opened the newly arrived box the first photograph on top of the stack was one of the few with a title, called, “Two Minute Warning.” It is an iconic image taken on March 7, 1965 in Selma, Alabama, by a young photojournalist for the Birmingham News, James ‘Spider’ Martin. This print is among the more than 40 gelatin silver prints by Martin recently acquired by the Archive of Documentary Arts at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The prints depict the violence of Bloody Sunday, the men and women of the Selma to Montgomery March, and George Wallace on the campaign trail. There are photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, and Ralph Abernathy, among many others.
But in among the well-known visages, are many unknown faces, all marching through the landscape. It wasn’t long into my inspection of these prints that I started to notice the suitcases, the socks, a backpack worn by John Lewis, and the straining hands holding up Amelia Boynton – grasping for the fabric of her coat.
While a few of the prints were made in 1965, most were reprinted by Martin between 1993-1999. Some of the later prints come with handwritten reflections. On the back of a photograph of Ralph Abernathy and M.L.K. at the Selma March, Martin writes:
“Dr. King knew he was a target. Many times I was tipped off that he might be assassinated. I look at this picture and think that Dr. King is looking towards heaven and thinking that it is enevitable (sic) that he will die fighting for the struggle. I think of the gospel song “Commin’ Home (sic).”
As a member of the news media, Spider Martin was on site to cover a march. It wasn’t until the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge that he also became a witness to the violence of Bloody Sunday. John Lewis is quoted as saying, “he left, through the power of his camera and with a quick eye, images that will educate and sensitize unborn generations.”.
The particular print, which I mentioned at the start of this blog post, came with a note from Martin’s daughter, Tracy, “He would make a perfect print and send to the client which was common a long while back, but he would always make them a titch darker and contrastier because he thought all printed publications lost that in the print process.” This particular print, now part of the ADA, may have been destined for publication in the book ‘Weary Feet, Rested Souls’ by Townsend Davis.
In addition to the newly added photographs by Spider Martin the Archive of Documentary arts, also holds the work of photographer James H. Karales, and his coverage of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. They are joined by various other collections at the Rubenstein Library including the Abraham Joshua Heschel papers documenting his participation in the Selma to Montgomery March.