'For All the World to See'

Gerard Edic

A vignette about Gordon Parks, an acclaimed photojournalist who documented civil rights for Life magazine, is part of the exhibit “For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights.” The exhibit will premiere at the Museum of the Mississippi Delta during a cocktail reception Thursday beginning at 5 p.m. and will be at the museum until May 25.

A comprehensive visual arts exhibit concerning civil rights has made its way to Greenwood.

The Museum of the Mississippi Delta will unveil “For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights” at 5 p.m. Thursday. There also will be a cocktail reception, including music and refreshments.

At approximately 1,100 square feet, the exhibit is composed of a variety of vignettes about “how African-Americans were stereotyped in this type of media,” said Cheryl Thornhill, the museum’s executive director.

“We’re bringing this exhibit from Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City, Missouri,” Thornhill said. “They’re an exhibit design company that travels the United States looking for important exhibitions at a variety of museums that they think would be significant enough to provide to small museums and libraries in a condensed version.”

She said she had to apply to mount the small-scale exhibit at the museum in Greenwood, where it will be displayed until May 25. The National Endowment for the Humanities’ On the Road Program funded the traveling exhibit. The exhibit will travel to 45 venues through 2023.  

The name “For All the World to See” comes from  a famous quote from Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy who was lynched in 1955  after  whistling at a white woman at a grocery store in Money. His mutilated body was found in the Tallahatchie River.

'For All the World to See'

One segment of the exhibit “For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights”will focus on Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy who was lynched in 1955.

“Let the world see what I have seen,” Mamie Till said then, explaining her decision to have an open-casket funeral for her son to  demonstrate the violence inflicted on him.

The exhibit begins in the 1940s, when black men who had served their country in World War II  returned home and discovered they did not have the rights they had in the military, Thornhill said.

It concludes in the 1970s, when the civil rights movement and the political upheaval of the Vietnam war created great social and cultural change in the country, Thornhill said.

Parts of the exhibit analyze the way African-Americans were stereotyped in visual media, such as advertisements. “It’s very subtle in some ways, but it was deliberate,” Thornhill said.

Parts of the exhibit also look at achievements of African-Americans. One frame features Gordon Parks, a documentary photojournalist whose pictures in Life magazine depicted the American condition, in both its glories and hardships. Parks’ camera was his “weapon of choice” to combat racial inequality, Thornhill said.

Associated with the exhibit are pieces of art and artifacts that Thornhill borrowed from the Mississippi Museum of Art and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, both in Jackson.

Among those additional pieces are portraits of Medgar Evers and his wife, Myrlie. Evers, who served as Mississippi’s field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was assassinated in Jackson in 1963 by Byron De La Beckwith, a Greenwood white supremacist.  

“For All the World to See” was originally organized by Dr. Maurice Berger, a professor at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, in 2010. The full-size exhibit has traveled to six venues across the country so far.

Six free panel discussions and conversations will be held during the exhibit’s run at the museum:

• “Let Them See What I’ve Seen: The Emmett Till Story,” 9 a.m.-noon April 6.

• “Artistic Expression during the Civil Rights Movement,” 10 a.m.-noon April 13.

• “Civil Rights-era Music Panel,” 6-7:30 p.m. April 16.

• “The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi,” 10 a.m.-noon April 20.

• “‘Mississippi Witness: The photographs of Florence Mars’ by James T. Campbell and Elaine Owens,” 5-7 p.m. April 23.

• “Interpretations in Dance from the Civil Rights Movement,”  May 14. The time is still to be determined.

Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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