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Visual Communication of the

Black Experience in American


17th Century 21st Century

The old cliché that pictures paint a thousand words
is true. Those words are also expressed through
stories, songs or poems.
First section of this demonstration illustrates
slavery and how blacks were once viewed in a
negative light with stereotypical images.
Second section shows Blacks beginning to take
control of how they were viewed by writing and
illustrating images of themselves.
Third section depicts television’s influence in
recording inhumane treatment of Civil Rights
Presidential candidate Barack Obama used
technology to successfully captivate and galvanize
a nation. Thus, the final part of this demonstration
culminates with the world witnessing the
inauguration of the first African American,
President Barack Obama.
During the middle 1800s
images of blacks began
surfacing through magazines
and newspaper. The popular
magazine Harper’s Weekly
and a well-known illustrator
Thomas Worth showed
blacks in an unfavorable,
derogatory light.
With the birth of the Abolition
Movement came William Lloyd
Garrison, Fredrick Douglass,
Sojourner Truth and countless others.
They wanted Americans to realize that
even though the Emancipation
Proclamation was passed, Blacks
were still not free. They were treated
inhumanely and as second class
citizens. Thus, newspapers such as
the Liberator and the North Star were
created to convey their plight to the
From 1847 to 1863, escaped slave
and abolitionist Frederick Douglass
(1817-1895) published the North Star
with the aid of money and a press
provided by British philanthropists.
The paper was published in
Rochester, New York. Douglass's
goals were to "abolish slavery in all its
forms and aspects…”
North Star, June 20, 1850, p. 1
Newspaper Serial and Government
Publications Division (49)
William Lloyd Garrison (1805-
1879) issued the first number
of The Liberator on January 1,
1831. The radical tone of the
paper was unprecedented
because it labeled slave-
holding a crime and called for
immediate abolishment.

The Liberator, May 21, 1831,

p. 1 Newspaper
Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Reconstruction brought hope but the
newly emancipated people were the
victims of discrimination, lynching,
and terror.
Lynching was frequent from 1880-1922. It was
estimated that someone was lynched every two and a
half days.
Even though all
these horrific acts of
violence were
taking place, a new
generation of black
photographers were
capturing a more
well off and
educated black
community (free
men, women &
children). Needless
to say, these
images were not
being circulated
amongst the white
The roaring 1920s brought about the
Renaissance Period for many Black
Americans. This rebirth created writers,
poets, musicians, artists, photographers
and many more gifted individuals.
Many of the popular individuals during this
time gained attention through Black owned
periodicals such as the Crisis and
Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life.
Musician and Celebrity:

Josephine Baker Billie Holiday

Langston Hughes Claude Mckay

W.E.B. DuBois Zora Neal Hurston


James Van der Zee

Aaron Douglass Jacob Lawrence
1960s and The Civil Rights
The Civil Rights Movement received the most
attention during this period and stimulated people
to action. Television media coverage, coupled with
print media, made the task of getting the message
out to the world about the treatment of Blacks in
the United States.
1953 – 45% of homes had televisions; 3 years
later it jumped to 83%.
Two events that created a spiraling effect
leading up to the Civil Rights Movement were
Emmett Till’s publicized funeral and Rosa Park’s
14 year old boy murdered in the Mississippi Delta; 3
month later after his murder trail, Rosa Parks was
1963 March on Washington

This was the first event broadcasted live

around the world.
Because of all the atrocities perpetrated against Blacks,
other movements grew in the 60s.
21st Century
Since the Civil Rights Movement, over forty
plus year ago, our world has changed.
Technology and ways of communication
have improved and increased
exponentially. Thus, new forms of
accessing and conveying information to the
world is faster.
Not only has technology changed, the
treatment of Blacks in the United States
has also improved, leading to the election
of the first African American president.
The Whole world is watching

We watched when we didn’t have a voice of our own.

We watched as knaves made up stories that tarnished our names.
We watched and there was nothing so bazaar.
They made up lies and twisted truth to make traps for fools.
We watched for a long time as our bodies hung from trees.
We watched as men revealed the welted scars from lashes on their backs.
We watched in the sixties as we were bitten by dogs and flushed with water hoses.
We watched the changing of the seasons as new voices began to rise and protested our
down trodden plight.
And even though all this took place; we watched while our children became complacent.
We watched neglecting to tell them the stories of the struggles.
We watched and we watched as a new dawn breaks; to see the changing of the guards.
We watched as history took place on the epoch night of November 4th, 2008.
A new face, the memories of hard times past came together as tears washed our faces; we
all watched in awe and marveled at what we saw.
Could it be that times are changing?
Or could it be that times have changed?
Just remember, the whole world did watch, the whole world was watching.
And the whole world will continue to watch.

M. Rayah Levy
Arsenault, Raymond. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Injustice.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Burnside, Madeleine. Spirits of the Passage: The Transatlantic Slave trade in the
Seventeenth Century New York: Simon & Schuster Editions, 1997.
Congdon-Martin, Douglas. Images in Black: 150 Years of Black Collectibles.
Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 1999.
Franklin, John Hope. An illustrated history of Black Americans. New York: Time-Life
Books, 1970.
Furst, Michele, Bailey Ronald W., and Withers Ernest C. Let us March On! : selected
Civil Rights Photographs of Ernest C Withers. Massachusetts: College of Art, 1992.
Gitlin, Todd. The Whole World is Watching. Berkeley: University of California Press,
Griffin, John, Howard. Black Like Me. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961.
Haskins, James. James VanDerZee: the Picture taking Man. New York: Dodd Mead,
Kasher, Steven. The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic history, 1954 -68. New
York: Abbeville Press, 1996.
Bibliography, cont.
St. Clair, William. The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Coast Castle and the
Atlantic Slave Trade. New York : BlueBridge, 2007.
Till-Mobley, Mamie, d. and Benson, Christopher. Death of Innocence; The Story of
the Hate Crime that Changed America. New York: Random House, 2003.
Tobin, Jacqueline. Hidden in Plain View; The Secret story of Quilts and the
Underground Rail Road. New York, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1999.
Willis, Deborah. Reflections in Black: A history of Black Photographs, 1840 to
Present. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002.
Winslow Homer. Our Jolly Cook, from Campaign Sketches. (slide #5 -right) (slide - 12)
Whittier, John Greenleaf "Our Countrymen
in Chains", New York: Anti-Slavery Office, 1837 Broadside
Rare Book and Special Collections Division (54). (Slide 3; b - right) (slide 19 - right.) (slide 15 – left) (slide – 18 left) (silde - 17) (slide 14
- right)