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The Roots of The Civil Rights Movement

The Connecticut Historical Society has two new exhibitions that remember the beginnings of the fight for civil rights in America.

One of the shows features photos by Stephen Somerstein that were originally exhibited at the New-York Historical Society in New York City. The show is called “Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March.”

Somerstein was one of the thousands who joined Martin Luther King Jr. on the historic 1965 march. He was a night student at the City College of New York at the time, and photo editor of the school newspaper. King had sent telegrams to student body presidents asking them to come to Alabama in support of voting rights for all; a group of 40 students from CCNY took the three-day bus trip to Alabama. 

During the five-day, 54-mile march, Somerstein walked with five cameras around his neck and took 400 photos — of King and Rosa Parks and writer James Baldwin, and of things happening around the march — many of which give a chilling sense of the violence directed at the Blacks and everyone supporting them.

Somerstein went on to become a physicist and worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and at Lockheed Martin Company. This show includes 58 photographs by Somerstein and will remain on display until June 5. 

Also on display at the museum and library in Hartford, Conn., is “Connecticut Freedom Workers: Remembering the Civil Rights Movement,” with exhibits about and interviews with eight civil rights leaders who had Connecticut connections. This show will remain up until October 2021.

During the COVID-19 quarantine, attendance at the museum is limited to 40 visitors at one time. Everyone must wear a face mask that covers their nose and mouth fully, and maintain 6 feet distance between other patrons and museum staff. 

The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission for nonmembers is $12 for adults, $10 for anyone 65 or older, $8 for students and anyone 6 to 17.  To learn more, go to www.chs.org.

— Cynthia Hochswender

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