“We must use time creatively — and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” -Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
The Birmingham Museum of Art proudly honors the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement with a selection of photos, located on our second floor hallway outside of the Museum Store. These photos from our collection document our city’s struggle towards greater racial equality.
The Museum itself has directly benefitted from this fight. Founded in 1951 as a department of the city of Birmingham, the Museum was subject to Jim Crow laws that variously established “separate but equal” accommodations for blacks or excluded them entirely. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the Museum only opened its doors to African Americans on Tuesdays or “Negro Day.”
In his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. argued that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws. If acts of nonviolent resistance occurred at the Museum, those stories have not yet come to light. Elsewhere in the city, however, the courageous acts of Dr. King, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth (1922-2011), and their followers helped to bring an end to racist laws that denied blacks equal access to the city’s business establishments and cultural institutions, including the Museum.
In the time since the heydey of the Civil Rights Movement, racial strife has not disappeared from our nation. However, the courage and fortitude of the leaders of the 1950s and 1960s provides us with hope that — to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln — although, at times, passion may strain the bonds of our affection, in such moments of difficulty we will again be compelled to rediscover the better angels of our nature.
In honor of the Civil Rights Movement and the enduring legacy of Dr. King, we invite you to come to the Museum this weekend for thoughtful reflection and discussion on this collection of photography, considering both the importance of its history and its role in events today.