from "Picturing America" http://picturingamerica.neh.gov/downloads/pdfs/Resource_Guide_Chapters/PictAmer_Resource_Book_Chapter_19B.pdf
JAMES KARALES [1930 –2002]
Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965
On August 7, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the
Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation
in America since the era of Reconstruction. It signaled the
victory of a battle that was fought five months earlier in Dallas
County, Alabama. On March 25, twenty-five thousand participants--
the largest civil rights gathering the South had yet
seen—converged on the state capital of Montgomery, concluding
a four-day march for voting rights that began in Selma,
fifty-four miles away.
James Karales, a photographer for the popular biweekly magazine
Look, was sent to illustrate an article covering the march.
Titled “Turning Point for the Church,” the piece focused on
the involvement of the clergy in the civil rights movement--
specifically, the events in Selma that followed the murder of a
white minister from the North who had gone down to support
voting rights for blacks. Karales’s photograph of this event captured
the spirit and determination of civil rights workers during
those tense and dangerous times.
As in Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware
(see 4-A), the participants face human and natural obstacles
that stand in the way of heroic action. Karales positioned his
camera so that we look up at the train of marchers, who
appear to climb some unseen path toward the low, threatening
sky as they move resolutely from right to left. As though
in defiance of the oncoming storm, four figures at the front of
the group march in unison and set a brisk, military pace. In
the center of the photograph, the American flag, a symbol of
individual freedom and Constitutional rights, is carried by
invisible hands beneath a heavy, black thundercloud that
appears ready to break.
In the week before Karales took this iconic picture, two unsuccessful
attempts to march on the capital had already been
made. On Sunday, March 5, the first activists, recorded by television
cameras and still photographers, crossed the Edmund
Pettus Bridge out of Selma. Horrified viewers watched as
unarmed marchers, including women and children, were
assaulted by Alabama state troopers using tear gas, clubs,
and whips. The group turned back battered but undefeated.
“Bloody Sunday,” as it became known, only strengthened the
movement and increased public support. Ordinary citizens, as
well as priests, ministers, nuns, and rabbis who had been called
to Selma by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., flocked to join its ranks.
The second attempt—“Turnaround Tuesday”—which Karales
had been sent down to cover, was halted at the bridge by Dr.
King before anyone was injured. Finally, six days later, the last
march began after President Johnson mobilized the National
Guard and delivered his voting rights legislation to Congress.
At first, Karales’s photograph did not receive much exposure or
recognition. He was a quiet man who let his work speak for
itself. Born in 1930 to Greek-immigrant parents in Canton,
Ohio, Karales trained as a photojournalist at Ohio University
and then apprenticed with legendary photographer W. Eugene
Smith. He worked for Look magazine from 1960 until the magazine
folded in the early 1970s, and covered significant events
of that turbulent decade such as the Vietnam War, the work of
Dr. King, and the civil rights movement. Of all his photographs,
it was those of this last group for which he became known, and
his image of the Selma march has become an icon of the civil
rights movement. It caught the attention of a broad audience
when it appeared in the 1987 award-winning documentary
series, Eyes on the Prize, which chronicled the history of the
movement and acknowledged the role played by the news
media in getting the story to the American public.
Karales’s Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights in1965
reveals the strength of conviction demonstrated by hundreds
of Americans seeking basic human rights. Transcending its primary
function as a record of the event, it tells the story of the
desire for freedom that is the shared heritage of all Americans.
It is also a testament to Karales’s ability to capture a timeless
image from a fleeting moment—one that still haunts the