The February 15 & 22, 2010, Anniversary Issue of The New Yorker includes “The Promise” (p. 94), a portfolio honoring the civil-rights generation, by the National Magazine Award-winning photographer Platon. Over three months, Platon travelled across the country to photograph some of the iconic figures of the civil-rights movement, many of them revisiting the sites of their moments in history. Among his subjects are the Little Rock Nine, the nine students, now in their sixties and seventies, who, in 1957, integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, photographed in front of the school; surviving leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Black Panthers; Myrlie and Charles Evers, the widow and brother of Medgar Evers; and the daughters of Malcolm X. Interviews with many of Platon’s subjects accompany a fuller portfolio on newyorker.com.
In his prefatory text, David Remnick describes a recent encounter he had in the Oval Office with President Obama, who looked back on his Inauguration one year later. “I have to tell you that you feel a little disembodied from it,” Obama told Remnick. “Never during that week did I somehow feel that this was a celebration of me and my accomplishments. I felt very much that it was a celebration of America and how far we had travelled. And that people were reaffirming our capacity to overcome all the old wounds and old divisions, but also new wounds and new divisions.”
Reflecting on the civil-rights leaders of half a century ago, Obama told Remnick, “I am a direct beneficiary of their sacrifice and their effort—my entire generation is.” But he disavowed the comparison between their struggle and his political ascendancy, saying, “They are related only in the sense that at the core of the civil-rights movement, even in the midst of anger, despair, Black Power, Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, all that stuff, there is a voice that is best captured by King, which says that we, as African-Americans, are American, and that our story is America’s story, and that by perfecting our rights we perfect the Union—which is a very optimistic story, in the end.” Please see this link for a slideshow of the photographs and accompanying video testimonials of Platon’s subjects: http://www.newyorker.com/online/multimedia/2010/02/15/100215_multimedia_platon
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