A line of protesters slog below a cloudy sky in “Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965.” The black-and-white James Karales photo, which was shot for Look magazine, captured a decisive moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the hundreds of nonviolent marchers walked Alabama’s highways for voting rights, spurred on by the death of a 26-year-old black protestor. Karales’ shot is a peaceful moment in a protest that faced its share of brutality, and it has become one of the most iconic images of those turbulent years. But it was just one of thousands of photos that Karales took during that time.
Karales’ body of work was new to Rebekah Jacob when she began curating a show of his pictures in 2009, but she has brokered, appraised, and curated a wide range of civil rights photography throughout her career. For Jacob’s first co-authored book, she decided to revisit Karales.
Controversy and Hope: The Civil Rights Photographs of James Karales was released this spring by the University of South Carolina Press. Working with Julian Cox, a curator with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Jacob accessed material from Karales’ estate, as well as from Duke University, which houses a collection of his photos from 1956-1969, and the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York.
“We basically started with over 2,000 images, and through a lot of patience, distilled it down to 94 plates,” she says. The final selections weren’t chosen based solely on their commercial appeal. Cox lent his academic eye to the process, helping Jacob to choose materials that showed off Karales’ range as a photographer.
“He covered a vast amount, much more than many of the other civil rights photographers, and he was one of the only photographers to march the entire way from Selma,” she says. “Other photographers would spend a day or two, but he marched the whole way, so he’s got some real rare images.”
Readers will see the Selma-to-Montgomery march, but they’ll also get a glimpse at other moments in civil rights history, as well as images of Martin Luther King Jr.’s home life. “He was one of the only photographers to access the home, and in real life the prints are just exquisite,” Jacob says. The book also gives insight from experts like Jacob, Cox, Karales’ wife Monica, and Andrew Young — the former mayor of Atlanta, congressman, United Nations ambassador, and civil rights activist, who also participated in the march, provided the forward for the book.
A lot of the material has never been published, or even seen, before, and the photos show off the access that Karales had to the Civil Rights Movement. His pictures of marchers camping out at night provide an especially unusual perspective, because, as Jacob explains, most other photographers spent their evenings in the comfort of hotel rooms instead. “But Karales chose to camp with the marchers, so we have access to that kind of material,” she says. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have that kind of reference.”
It took two years to publish Controversy and Hope, and now Jacob has eight baskets worth of new material waiting for her as she plans her next project. Over the summer, she’ll start distilling and organizing her selections into a new book. While she’s not yet sure exactly what it will be, she promises it will highlight Southern photography.
In the meantime, Jacob hopes to host events for her first book in the fall.