The images in the new exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art offer insight into the lives of African Americans living in Southern California during the second half of the 20th century.
Some of the photographs capture the tenacity and determination of those championing civil rights, while others offer a glimpse of daily life in the community. All the photos in the exhibition, “Black Life: Images of Resistance and Resilience in Southern California,” come from the collections of California State University, Northridge’s Tom & Ethel Bradley Center, as part of its effort to preserve and disseminate the visual history of the people of Los Angeles, California and the nation.
The exhibition, which opens Aug. 24, is a collaboration between Keith Rice, a historian and archivist with the Bradley Center, and Gaidi Finnie, guest curator of the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Arts. It features the work of photographers Charles Williams, Harry Adams and Guy Crowder.
“Employing their distinct visual approaches, the photographers provide an unobstructed view into the lives of African Americans in Southern California,” Rice said. “Not only do the photographers capture the drama and aftermath of significant events in Southern California history, but also political campaigns, voter registration drives, civil rights protests, celebrations and parades. Mostly excluded from the mainstream press at the time, images in this exhibition provide a small peek into the community’s post World War II years, as seen through the lenses of these gifted photographers.”
Rice noted that that second half of the 20th century — the period captured by Williams, Adams and Crowder — was a critical time in the history of race relations in the United States. In addition to local and national civil rights leaders, the photographers’ subjects included politicians, activists, entertainers, athletes and religious leaders.
The photographers’ images highlight the cultural and social legacies of the great migration of more than five million people of African descent from the southern United States to the North, Northwest and West, Rice said.
The exhibition runs to Dec. 1 at the San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado in Balboa Park. An opening reception is scheduled to take place from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 30.
Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, CSUN’s Tom & Ethel Bradley Center has digitized 19,000 photographic images in the collections of Charles Williams, Harry Adams and Guy Crowder. These photographs are viewable at the Bradley Center/Oviatt Library’s digital collection site at https://digital-library.csun.edu/bradley-center-photographs.
The mission of the Tom & Ethel Bradley Center is to collect, preserve and disseminate the visual history of Southern California with an emphasis on ethnic minority communities and photographers. Oral histories, manuscripts and other ephemeral materials support the photographic collection.
The center was established at CSUN in 1981 by journalism professor Kent Kirkton as the Center for Photojournalism and Visual History. In 2008, as its mission and participation broadened, it was renamed the Institute for Arts & Media. After entering into a partnership with the Tom & Ethel Bradley Foundation in 2013, it was renamed as the Tom & Ethel Bradley Center, which presently holds about one million images. Many of the images were produced by African-American freelance and independent photographers in the African-American communities in and near Los Angeles.
Other noteworthy collections held by the center include images by the photographer John Kouns, who spent years documenting two of the most important social movements of the 1960s and 1970s in America, the civil rights struggle in the South and the workers’ and civil rights struggle of the United Farm Workers Union in California; Emmon Clarke, a volunteer photographer for César Chávez and the United Farmworkers during the formative period of the union; and photographer Herb Carleton, who spent his career at the Los Angeles Daily News, starting at the paper when it was known as the Valley News and Green Sheet.
For more information about CSUN’s Tom & Ethel Bradley Center, visit its website at http://www.csun.edu/bradley-center/or call the center at (818) 677-3037.