Although the struggle for black freedom pre-dates the United States itself, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s became one of the most significant social movements in the fight for a democratic society. Primarily concerned with dismantling institutionalized racism under segregation, the movement’s goals ranged from achieving economic and legal justice to ending racialized sexual violence. The movement itself comprised hundreds of different groups and thousands of local endeavors across the country, using a variety of strategies and tactics. Along with race, gender, sexuality, and class influenced the movement’s politics and people’s experiences of the struggle.
Hope and Anger brings together artworks from the Tang Teaching Museum collection to examine the dominant narratives of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements and the shifting construction and understanding of those narratives over time. By presenting everyday activists, movement leaders like Malcolm X, Huey Newton, and Martin Luther King Jr., and other images evoking oppression and its legacy, the works in the exhibition suggest the multiplicity of voices and experiences that contributed to this period of intense activism.
The paintings, prints, and photographs raise numerous questions: How do we come to understand important historical moments? Which voices dominate, which are silenced, and why? How could a nation “conceived in liberty” have persisted in denying basic rights to a significant percentage of its population? And what is the relationship between this historical moment and our contemporary struggle for social justice?
Throughout the fall 2014 semester, students from the American Studies class AM260A, “Race, Gender, Sexuality and the Civil Rights Movement,” will study, discuss, and write about the art on display here, their work culminating in a brochure with extended labels for each work in the exhibition.
– Rachel Seligman and Megan Williams