BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Dozens of never before released photos from the civil rights era came to light this weekend after an intern discovered them buried in an equipment closet at the Birmingham News.
The photos had been in a box marked: "Keep. Do Not Sell." But at the time they were taken, the newspaper didn't want to draw attention to the racial discord of the 1950s and 1960s, news photographers from the period said.
"The editors thought if you didn't publish it, much of this would go away," said Ed Jones, 81, a photographer at The News from 1942 to 1987. "Associated Press kept on wanting pictures, and The News would be slow on letting them have them, so they flooded the town with photographers."
On Sunday, the photos finally went to print in a special eight-page section called "Unseen. Unforgotten." Others are on the newspaper's Web site at http://www.al.com/unseen .
Several photos vividly show the segregation in the South at the time, including the disparity among school buildings and the different lines for blacks and whites, even at the jail as the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth posts bail after an arrest.
Others show confrontations: a police officer shoving a demonstrator, black children hit with the spray of a firehose, crowds heckling demonstrators on their knees, Freedom Riders being arrested, and whites throwing bricks at cars and blocking blacks from entering "whites-only" areas.
One photo shows a Ku Klux Klan rally with men wearing hoods but their faces uncovered. Others show National Guardsmen with their guns drawn, protecting a bus in one and rounding up rioters protesting a black student's enrollment at the University of Mississippi.
Catherine Burks Brooks, 66, a Birmingham teacher who was part of a group of Freedom Riders while a student at Tennessee State University, was among those photographed.
"I was very, very thrilled to see that we do have them," she said after learning about the newly found photos. "I knew the pictures had to exist, but they were being kept somewhere."
Robert Adams, 84, a photographer who joined the newspaper in 1940 and retired in 1985, said The News didn't want to inflame the situation.
It was also dangerous, said Tom Self, 71, who joined the newspaper in 1952. He described how one photographer's car window was shot out while the photographer was inside.
In the News' centennial edition in 1988, the newspaper said a New York Times story in 1960 forced the paper and the city's white community to confront the racial conflict: "The story of The Birmingham News' coverage of race relations in the 1960s is one marked at times by mistakes and embarrassment but, in its larger outlines, by growing sensitivity and acceptance of change."