A Review: UCSB's Art, Design, & Architecture Museum

Today, I visited my school's art museum for an extra credit assignment. I had never been to the museum before, but found my visit extremely enjoyable and enlightening. If you live near the Santa Barbara area, I highly recommend you check their Civil Rights Movement exhibit out (click here for more information). Below is my review of Freedom Now! Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle:

From October 19 through December 13, 2013, UC Santa Barbara’s Art, Design, & Architecture Museum will be exhibiting Freedom Now! Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle. The exhibit presents a collection of forgotten photographs illustrating the action, heroism, and strength of black activists in driving social and legislative change during the Civil Rights Movement. Freedom Now! highlights the power wielded by black men, women, and children in courthouses, community centers, department stores, political conventions, schools, and streets. By questioning how and why particular people, events, and issues have been edited out of the photographic story told about the past, the exhibit argues blacks changed America through their action, not the suffering white, mainstream media has historically popularized. 

The museum organized its collection of black and white photographs based on the thematic walls of: The Canon, Joy, Women, Youth, Strength, Historical Precedent, and Doctored. The themes I found particularly persuasive were Doctored and Youth. 

The photographs housed under Doctored argued civil rights photographs were physically and contextually manipulated by white media. Examples of such manipulations included airbrushing, radical cropping, photographs with misleading captions, and publishing photographs out of context. Life’s May 17, 1963 The Spectacle of Racial Turbulence in Birmingham 11 page pictorial essay was my favorite photograph in the Doctored section. In 1963, Life was the largest circulating news magazine in the U.S. Thus, this pictorial essay is a great example of white media and how (according to the exhibit) it emphasized the suffering of blacks, not their actions. The front page of Life’s essays showed firefighters using water hoses against protestors with the caption, “They Fight a Fire that Won’t go out.” The angle of the photograph and use of “They” puts the reader on the white firefighters’ side, oppose to choosing the much more visually impacting perspective of the protestors’ watered-down standpoint. Ultimately, nowhere in the pictorial essay is the hatred of white public officials, firemen, or police who either ordered or wielded fire hoses and dogs against black protestors mentioned. Thus, supporting the exhibit’s claim that white media mainstreamed black suffering instead of applauding black civic action.

Lastly, the Youth wall highlights the importance of children and young-adults’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. To me, the most persuasive photograph on this wall was the 1960 Dion Diamond, a student at Howard University in Washington, DC, Is Surrounded by White Youths during a Sit-In Demonstration photographed by an unknown source. Diamond, a founding member of Howard University’s Nonviolent Action Group sponsored a sit-in at a lunch counter. The photograph shows Diamond engaging with the surrounding white and black crowd. The majority of photographs I have seen of such sit-ins show black students being pummeled, verbally and physically, by white observers. Here, there is a young white woman sitting next to Diamond at the counter, and her leaned-in body language shows she is clearly listening intently to what he has to say. Furthermore, there is a (even younger) white boy staring up at Diamond with his mouth agape. In such a segregated society, these dialogues where non-protestors and protestors could speak freely were some of the only places where these unfiltered views could be shared regarding civil rights. I never knew some sit-ins fostered environments of open dialogue. I always thought sit-in protestors remained silent in solidarity, and surrounding whites attacked them with racial slurs. Thus, this photograph debunked my predisposed notion of black sit-in protestors struggling through action, when instead, they were taking action against their struggle.

In conclusion, I found Freedom Now! extremely eye-opening and persuasive in its argument that blacks changed America through their action, and not the suffering popularized by white, mainstream media and still rooted in our nation’s historical memory. 


  1. I went to UCSB! Already graduated but I have such great memories of my time spent there. I had no idea there was a museum there! I'm glad you're taking advantage of such an amazing school and everything it has to offer. I'm following you on bloglovin and I think you have a great blog! Keep it up. I can't wait to check out some of your other posts!
    <3 Grace

    1. Grace, your comment just made my day haha. Thank you and GO GAUCHOS! I follow your blog on Bloglovin too, and love it! Your fashion photographs are the best and I love being able to recognize some of my favorite Santa Barbara spots in them. Keep 'em coming!! :)