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Friday, July 20, 2012

Diana Davies and the Poor People's Campaign

Diana Jo Davies is a well-known photographer and photojournalist, best known for her images of folk performers, festivals, and social justice and peace movements during the 1960s and 1970s. The Social Justice Series of the Davies Collection holds some of her most powerful images, a number of which document the Poor People’s March on Washington. 

The Poor People’s March on Washington, also known as the Poor People’s Campaign, was a socio-economic movement primarily concerned with gaining economic justice and housing for the American poor. It united races and cultures under one social justice movement. The march began in Marks, Mississippi in May 1968, shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The campaign was to champion King’s final cause: to urge the federal government to pass the “Economic Bill of Rights.” This bill of rights would make assisting the poor a priority, providing employment, income, and housing to all Americans. Once in Washington, D.C., the protesters rallied at government buildings and built an encampment, dubbed “Resurrection City,” around the Washington Monument. Though the Economic Bill of Rights was never passed, the campaign’s goal of making poverty visible and impossible to ignore was certainly accomplished, as Diana Davies' photographs of the movement show. By placing herself inside the action and joining the Poor People’s March, she was able to more intimately capture the movement from the perspective of its participants.

For the past three months I have had the pleasure of delving deep into the Diana Davies Photograph Collection, which is housed in the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives. Poring over countless negatives, contact sheets, and prints from the Social Justice Series has been a slow process, but also a rewarding and fascinating one. In search of the most striking photographs from the Poor People’s March on Washington, I have selected, scanned, and edited a number of these amazing images, and would like to share some of the most powerful.

Songleaders, activists, and participants gather in Resurrection City at the Poor People's March on Washington, June 1968.

People gather on the Mall in Washington, D.C. for the Solidarity Day "Juneteenth" Rally, June 19, 1968.

Cops run people out of Resurrection City during the Poor People's March on Washington, June 25, 1968.
Seeing Davies’ photographs of the Poor People’s March on Washington is like looking through a window to the past. Through her photographs, Davies not only documents the people, places, and actions of the Poor People’s March; the emotions and desires behind this important civil rights movement are captured as well. These powerful images hold great historical significance and allow for a more thorough understanding of the movement and what it meant for so many people. I have certainly learned a lot from these photographs, and am so glad to have had the wonderful opportunity of working with them.

To see more photographs from the Diana Davies Social Justice Series, click here.

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