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Photo of William Ferris on the left, photo of the book cover on the right.Bookmark This logo with words in blue and a little blue book in the lower left corner.Bookmark This is a feature that highlights new books by College of Arts & Sciences faculty and alumni, published the first week of each month.

This month’s featured book: I AM A MAN: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1960-1970 (University Press of Mississippi, February 2021) by William R. Ferris with a foreword by Lonnie G. Bunch III.

Marchers march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge carrying suitcases and satchels.
Six hundred marchers carrying satchels and suitcases make their way over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. (photo by Spider Martin)

Q: Can you give us a brief synopsis of your book? 

A: I AM A MAN: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1960-1970 uses photographs to trace civil rights events in the American South during the decade of the ’60s. The collection of 25 color and 113 black and white photographs bears witness to the courage of protesters who faced unimaginable violence and brutality as well as the quiet determination of the elderly and the angry commitment of the young. Talented photographers who documented that decade captured both the bravery of civil rights workers and the violence they faced.

The chronology of events are:

  • 1961: Freedom Rides, Jackson, Mississippi; Birmingham, Alabama
  • 1962: James Meredith integrates University of Mississippi in Oxford
  • 1963: March on Washington
  • 1964: Ku Klux Klan Rally in Salisbury, North Carolina
  • 1965: Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, March
  • 1966: James Meredith March Against Fear, Jackson, Mississippi
  • 1968: Mule Train-Poor People’s March on Washington, Marks, Mississippi
  • 1968: Martin Luther King Jr. Assassination, Memphis, Tennessee
  • 1970: Jackson State University.

Q: How does this fit in with your research interests and passions?

A: I have taken photographs since I received my first camera as a Christmas gift in 1954, when I was 12 years old. Over the past 60 years, I photographed people and places in the American South, and I recently published a book of my color photography The South in Color: A Visual Journal. My interest in photography has deepened over the years, and I now use my iPhone to take photographs.

Black women sit at a lunch counter in Lexington, Kentucky.
Women at a sit-in at a lunch counter in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1960. (photo by Calvert McCann)

Q: What was the original idea that made you think: “There’s a book here?”

A: During the summer of 2017, my friend Gilles Mora, director of the Pavillon Populaire, a photography museum in Montpellier, France, called and asked if I would curate an exhibition of civil rights photographs taken in the American South during the ’60s and write a book to accompany the exhibition. I told him I would be honored to do both. Lonnie Bunch — then director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and now secretary of the Smithsonian Institution — agreed to write the foreword to the book. I AM A Man is now currently on exhibit through Aug. 21 at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. The exhibit takes its name from the slogan used by striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

Q: What surprised you when researching/writing this book?   

A: I was pleasantly surprised to discover that most of the photographs could be viewed on websites in state archives, museums and private collections. Collections in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library were especially important resources for the book. My gifted team of students and colleagues from the UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University worked tirelessly to locate photographs for our consideration.

Q: Where’s your go-to writing spot, and how do you deal with writer’s block?

A: My favorite spot for writing is the desk in my office. I keep a file of notes that I make to myself, and later I incorporate these sketch ideas into my book. Writing is always difficult for me, and I do my best work in the morning.

Ferris is the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History emeritus and senior associate director emeritus of the Center for the Study of the American South. Bunch is founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

Publishers Weekly calls I Am A Man “a moving and riveting look at the extraordinary people who came together to shape history.”

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