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What is the role of Museums in civil rights history?

The Role of Museums in Civil Rights History

The Ringling's Director of Collections, Marian Carpenter, discusses the role of museums in this recording and shares the history of the Civil Rights Movement, and it's place for inclusive discussion and expression.

Before coming to The Ringling, Carpenter worked extensively with museums and civil rights, including the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and helping smaller museums across the US to use their collections to tell their civil rights story. Among her accomplishments, Carpenter recalls, "I had the pleasure of meeting some of the great leaders of the Civil Rights Movement." She also designed and led a tour for educators to learn about the civil rights movement by visiting museums across the south. 

"Many groups start out by looking at the African American Civil Rights Movement as a way to voice their own civil rights," Carpenter says. Museums play an important role by preserving that history, sharing their collections, and serving as a safe space for the community to come together and engage in discussion. It is the duty of museums, Carpenter says, to continue to add to their collections in order to tell a more inclusive story of the Civil Rights Movement of the past, as well as document activism happening now and to foster conversations about rights for all people.

Selections From The Ringling Collection
Martin Luther King, Grosse Point Michigan, 1968 Photograph by Tony Spina in The Ringling Collection"Martin Luther King, Grosse Point Michigan", (1968) Tony Spina

This photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was taken by Tony Spina on March 14th, 1968. On that day, King visited the mostly white Grosse Pointe suburb of Detroit, and delivered a speech at Grosse Pointe High School titled "The Other America." This was just three weeks before King was assassinated. You may read the full text and listen to an excerpted recording here: http://www.gphistorical.org/mlk/mlkspeech/

“I want to discuss the race problem tonight and I want to discuss it very honestly," King said on that day. "I still believe that freedom is the bonus you receive for telling the truth. Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. And I do not see how we will ever solve the turbulent problem of race confronting our nation until there is an honest confrontation with it and a willing search for the truth and a willingness to admit the truth when we discover it. And so I want to use as a title for my lecture tonight, "The Other America." And I use this title because there are literally two Americas. Every city in our country has this kind of dualism, this schizophrenia, split at so many parts, and so every city ends up being two cities rather than one.”

A Detroit native, Spina (1914 - 1995) took photographs for the Detroit Free Press for over 4 decades, including the paper's Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the 1967 Detroit Riots. He photographed every US Presidents from Truman to Clinton, and as chief photographer he kept his department at the forefront of photographic technology, introducing the lighter and more agile 35-millimeter equipment.

 Builder Levy Photographs

Award-winning photographer Builder Levy was born in 1942 in Tampa, Florida, but grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where he worked as a teacher for at-risk youth for 35 years. His work connects fine art photography with social documentation, capturing the people affected by social justice issues across America, including civil rights protests in northern and southern cities, and the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am a Man, Union Justice Now (MLK Memorial March for Union Justice and to End Racism), Memphis, 1968 Photograph by Builder Levy in the Ringling Collection

I am a Man, Union Justice Now (MLK Memorial March for Union Justice and to End Racism), Memphis, 1968 Photograph by Builder Levy in the Ringling Collection

Guardsmen with Bayonets and Marchers(MLK Memorial March for Union Justice and to End Racism), Memphis, 1968 Photograph by Builder Levy in the Ringling Collection

Guardsmen with Bayonets and Marchers(MLK Memorial March for Union Justice and to End Racism), Memphis, 1968 Photograph by Builder Levy in the Ringling Collection

Annell Ponder (civil rights worker) at Martin Luther King Funeral, Atlanta, 1968, Photograph by Builder Levy in The Ringling Collection

Annell Ponder (civil rights worker) at Martin Luther King Funeral, Atlanta, 1968, Photograph by Builder Levy in The Ringling Collection

March on Washington (for jobs and freedom) 1963 Photograph by Builder Levy in The Ringling Collection

March on Washington (for jobs and freedom) 1963 Photograph by Builder Levy in The Ringling Collection

 

 

 

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