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Turning the Lens on Civil Rights Childhood: An interview with Katharine Capshaw

By Kenneth Best
UConn Today

Civil Rights Childhood by Katharine CapshawRalph Hattersley, noted author and teacher of photography, said of his lifelong passion: “We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”

In her new book Civil Rights Childhood: Picturing Liberation in African American Photobooks(University of Minnesota Press, 2014), Katharine Capshaw examines the importance of children’s photographic books and the image of the black child in social justice campaigns for school integration and the civil rights movement in a way that Hattersley would appreciate.

Capshaw, an associate professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, says she began studying children’s photobooks and their impact on the civil rights movement after completing her award-winning book Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance (Indiana University Press, 2004), which won the 2006 Children’s Literature Association award for best scholarly book.

“I got interested in the range of photographs of black children that were used during the civil rights movement,” Capshaw says. “What immediately springs to mind for people are Emmett Till images and the photographs around the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. When you think about children in civil rights you think about the martyred child photograph. But I learned through working on this project that there were many different approaches to representing childhood during the Civil Rights Movement.”

A photo of the smiling 14-year-old Till was widely published in 1955 adjacent to another image of his disfigured and mutilated body in black newspapers and magazines. Less than a decade later, images from the 1963 bombing of the church in Birmingham, which killed four young girls, were linked to children as martyrs in the struggle for civil rights in the nation.

 

Continue reading the interview here.

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Civil Rights Childhood