This exhibition features Stephen Somerstein’s stunning and historic photographs documenting the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March in March of 1965. Somerstein was a student at City College of New York and picture editor of its student newspaper when he traveled to Alabama to document the march.
He joined the marchers and gained unfettered access to everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, and Bayard Rustin. “I had five cameras slung around my neck,” he recalled. During the five-day, 54-mile march, Somerstein took about 400 photographs including poignant images of hopeful Blacks lining the rural roads as they cheered on the marchers walking past their front porches. He also captured whites crowded on city sidewalks, some looking on silently and others jeering as the activists walked to the Alabama capital. Somerstein sold a few photographs to the New York Times Magazine, public television and photography collectors, but none were exhibited until 2010, when he participated in a civil rights exhibition at the San Francisco Art Exchange.
Rather than pursuing photography as a career, Somerstein became a physicist and worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and at Lockheed Martin Company. It was only after his retirement in 2008 that he returned to his photography, realizing that “I had numerous iconic as well as historic photographs.” Among those images were his moving photographs of that memorable march to Montgomery in 1965.
Note: This exhibition is on display in the galleries at the Connecticut Historical Society.
This exhibition has been organized by the New-York Historical Society.
Support for this exhibition is provided by Bank of America and the Henry Nias Foundation.
Image: Stephen Somerstein, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to 25,000 civil rights marchers in Montgomery (detail), 1965. Courtesy of the photographer