By Samantha Brandbergh and Rena Carmen
The civil rights movement lives on in the Flip Schulke Photography Exhibit, “Civil Rights: Then & Now,” which had its official opening on Oct. 5.
Shulke, a renowned photographer, has taken memorable photos of John. F. Kennedy, Muhammad Ali and even astronauts during the early space program. He was a “pioneer in underwater photography” and “continued to be an active photojournalist” until his death on May 15, 2008, at the age of 77.
According to Pamela Pruitt, director of multicultural affairs, Shulke was “a great friend of the university’s” who recently received an honorary degree from Rider. His personal collection has over 11,000 photos, many of which include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his family, and is housed in the University of Texas.
“Our purpose is to prepare students for a multicultural world and to foster among them the skills and values that will help them manage the challenges and opportunities of our diverse and interdependent global world,” said Pruitt.
The exhibit covers racial tensions felt from the 1960s to present day.
“They give me chills to see the pictures, to see [King], to see the era, and to know that we still have this struggle today,” Pruitt said. “So I’m really happy that we were able to bring these photographs. The history sometimes gets lost in the transition of living. A lot of the young people on our campus need to see, need to hear and need to engage.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony in the Student Recreation Center seminary room was followed by a panel discussion featuring two influential figures from the civil rights movement. Hosted by Pruitt and moderated by Anthony Campbell, dean of students, the exhibit’s opening generated an intimate crowd, allowing the speakers to meet eyes with every student.
The two panelists were Dr. George Pruitt, president of Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, and Edith Savage-Jennings, a key figure during the civil rights movement.
An introduction for Savage-Jennings outlined her journey through the movement and the many changes that were put in place because of her influence. Among them, Savage-Jennings discussed a time when she was 13 and managed to integrate the Capitol Theater in Trenton with a group of friends.
During that time, it was customary for “colored people” to sit in the balcony section of movie theaters. Being the activist Savage-Jennings was, and still is, she and her friends sat in the second row, despite the manager telling them otherwise.
“The whole movie, they didn’t call the police, we didn’t go to juvenile hall, so I said to my friends, ‘We are going back next Saturday, and we are sitting in the same seats, and we’re not going to move,’” she said. “And I noticed that [the usher] didn’t come back to say we had to go to the balcony. So I said, ‘He’s probably sending for the police.’ But the police never came.”
In addition to developing friendships with Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., Savage-Jennings has been a guest at the White House under 12 Presidents, including President Obama.
Savage-Jennings’ activism during the civil rights movement was not a walk in the park, however.
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent her on a “secret mission” to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which could have potentially landed her in jail to this day. Savage-Jennings was to meet with student civil rights activists who had been jailed and unable to communicate with the outside world for more than a year.
“I had my mother in the house saying, ‘Sometimes I wish you didn’t do these things.’ But, something was just inside of me that said, ‘You do what you think is right.’”
Dr. Pruitt shared personal stories on the panel as well, detailing a specific time in his life where he lost two family members, including his pregnant Aunt Daisy.
“She was sitting at the kitchen table and she belched up blood,” he explained. “She called her brother, who was the only black doctor in the town. When they got her to the hospital, they didn’t have her blood type. The closest blood bank that would give blood to black people was in Jackson, about 50 miles away. By the time she got back, my aunt had bled to death and my [unborn] cousin had died. She died because she was black.”
Campbell addressed the current racial issues we have in society, asking the panelists what Americans in society can do to encourage progress.
“The struggles we have now are not so much about civil rights,” Pruitt said. “Although there will always be racism in the society, we must oppose that, I challenge: what are we going to do with the tools that the civil rights movement left us with?”
On Thursday, Oct. 8, a march for “peace” and “solidarity” will end with a song and the lighting of the Unity Candles in front of Moore Library.
“I hope [this] will build a tradition on this campus because you know we are a tapestry of differences,” Ms. Pruitt said. “We need to blend those differences together. And we need to appreciate that all of us come from different places, and have different likes and dislikes, but we can all live together and be prepared for that global world that will happen when we graduate here.”