Let Us March On:

Lee Friedlander and the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom

September 11 – December 5, 2017
State of Tennessee Gallery

Reception and Gallery talk with Curator La Tanya S. Autry
on Thursday, October 12

 

The exhibition Let Us March On: Lee Friedlander and the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom showcases a series of 58 photographs by Friedlander of a significant, yet rarely mentioned key moment in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement.  With its title taken from the lyrics of the anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the photographic exhibit opens at the National Civil Rights Museum on loan from the Yale University Art Gallery.

Sixty years ago, the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957 was the precursor to the March on Washington of 1963, following the 1941 attempt by A. Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.  With the support of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, the march of tens of thousands of protestors against segregation headlined notables including A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Mahalia Jackson. 

The 1963 March on Washington, with hundreds of thousands of attendees and international media coverage, may have overshadowed the 1957 protest, but the Prayer Pilgrimage provided key lessons in strategy for mass demonstrations in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.  It was at this demonstration that a youthful Dr. King delivered his “Give Us the Ballot” speech.

Friedlander’s images capture the widespread unity, expressions and energy among African Americans’ efforts to affect policy through peaceful, organized demonstration.  The photos in the exhibition include key civil rights figures, but they also include images of everyday freedom fighters who traveled from cities across the nation to participate in the pilgrimage. Friedlander compels viewers to acknowledge the courage of these men, women, and children, dressed in their Sunday best, who gathered in the nation’s capital—then a Jim Crow space—to stand up for their civil rights.

Friedlander’s photographs, immortalizing a daring public demonstration of love and freedom, offer both a remembrance of our country’s past and an inspiration for the present.  Let Us March On speaks to the power of Friedlander’s photographs six decades later, as America continues to struggle with some of the same issues that the 1957 event addressed, including de facto segregation, voter suppression, and racial violence.

 

About Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander was born in Aberdeen, WA in 1934 and studied photography at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA.  He began photographing the American social landscape in 1948. With an ability to organize a vast amount of visual information in dynamic compositions, Friedlander has made humorous and poignant images among the chaos of city life, dense landscape and countless other subjects.  In 1956, he moved to New York City where he photographed jazz musicians for record covers. His early work was influenced by Eugène Atget, Robert Frank, and Walker Evans. In 1960 Friedlander was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to focus on his art, and was awarded subsequent grants in 1962 and 1977. 

Friedlander is also recognized for a group of self-portraits he began in the 1960s, reproduced in Self Portrait, an exploration that he turned to again in the late 1990s, and published in a monograph by Fraenkel Gallery in 2000. Friedlander’s work was included in the highly influential 1967 New Documents exhibition, curated by John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art. Included among the many monographs designed and published by Friedlander himself are Sticks and Stones, Lee Friedlander: Photographs, Letters from the People, Apples and Olives, Cherry Blossom Time in Japan, Family, and At Work

Some of his most famous photographs appeared in the September 1985 Playboy, black and white nude photographs of Madonna from the late 1970s. A student at the time, she was paid only $25 for her 1979 set. 

In 2005, Friedlander was the recipient of the prestigious Hasselblad Award as well as the subject of a major traveling retrospective and catalog organized by the Museum of Modern Art. In 2009, one of the images fetched $37,500 at a Christie’s Art House auction.  In 2010, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York exhibited the entirety of his body of work, America by Car.

 

Exhibit Reception

Let Us March On was curated by La Tanya S. Autry, a Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow at the Yale University Art Gallery, and is made possible by the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund and the James Maloney ’72 Fund for Photography.  On loan from the Yale University Art Gallery, the exhibit is showing at the Museum through December 5 and is included with museum admission.

A reception and gallery talk with Autry is scheduled for October 12 at 6:00pm in the museum’s State of Tennessee Gallery. Autry is currently the Curator of Art and Civil Rights at the Mississippi Museum of Art and Tugaloo College in Jackson, MS.  The reception is free, but registration is highly encouraged.

Lee Friedlander, Untitled, from the series Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 1957, printed later. Gelatin silver print. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, hon. 2004. © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. Photo courtesy Eakins Press Foundation

 
 

Lee Friedlander, Untitled, from the series Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 1957, printed later. Gelatin silver print. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, hon. 2004. © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. Photo courtesy Eakins Press Foundation  

 

 

Lee Friedlander, Untitled, from the series Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 1957, printed later. Gelatin silver print. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, hon. 2004. © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. Photo courtesy Eakins Press Foundation

 
 

Lee Friedlander, Mahalia Jackson (at podium); first row: Mordecai Johnson, Bishop Sherman Lawrence Greene, Reverend Thomas J. Kilgore, Jr., and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., from the series Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 1957, printed later. Gelatin silver print. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, hon. 2004. © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. Photo courtesy Eakins Press Foundation   

 

Lee Friedlander, Untitled, from the series Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 1957, printed later. Gelatin silver print. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, hon. 2004. © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. Photo courtesy Eakins Press Foundation