1963/2017 Measured in Moments

Photographs by Leonard Freed in dialogue with Ta-Nehisi Coates

February 17 – March 31, 2017

While working in Germany in 1962, Leonard Freed noticed a black American soldier guarding the divide between East and West Berlin as the Berlin wall was being erected. It was not the partition between the forces of communism and capitalism that captured Freed’s imagination, but instead what haunted him was the idea of a man standing in defense of a country in which his own rights were in question. This experience ignited the young photographer’s interest i the American civil rights movement raging on the other side of the globe. In 1963, Freed headed back to the United States to embark on a multi-year documentary project. Traveling in New York, Washington, D.C., and throughout the Southern United States, Freed captured images that reflected the struggle for the end of racial segregation. First published in 1968, Black in White America shows many aspects of black life in 1960s America, from political marches and rallies to children playing.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me, published in 2015 addresses the biggest question about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, offering a powerful framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son –and readers– the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Exhibition description drawn from notes made by Leonard Freed over the course of his travels, Brett Abbott’s foreword to the 2010 edition of Black in White America, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ text Between the World and Me, (2015) as well as publisher notes.

The collection of photographs presented here is a small sample of the many photographs comprising the text Black in White America published by the J. Paul Getty Museum originally in 1968 and recently reprinted in 2010. These photographs were printed with special permission from the family of Leonard Freed. The quotes on the gallery walls are from Ta-Nehisi Coates 2015 book Between the World and Me published by Spiegel & Grau, NY.

This exhibition is presented in collaboration between the Department of Art, Art History, and Deisgn, the College of Social Science, and the MSU Law School. Special thanks to Nicholas Mercuro, MSU Law School, Veda Hawkins, College of Social Science, and Brandy Ellison, College of Social Science.

two pictures of African-American people on the street with "But all our phrasing - race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy - serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth" underneath it
"the entire narrative of this country argues against the truth of who you are" with black and white picture of two African-American men underneath it