Photographer captures fight for freedom

On Monday, Oct. 22, Geneseo's Alice Austin Theatre hosted a discussion by renowned photographer Rowland Freeman. The discussion focused on his featured exhibits, "The Mule Train: A Journey of Hope Remembered," displayed at the Lederer Gallery, and "Some Things of Value," at the Lockhart Gallery.

Freeman, president and founder of the Group for Cultural Documentation, addressed an eager crowd of Geneseo students, faculty and community members. He discussed his experiences during the Civil Rights era in America as a young photographer in Baltimore and Washington D.C. Additionally, he explained how his experiences helped to inspire the works of both of his exhibits, giving a slide show of examples from both "Mule Train" and "Some Things of Value."

Freeman painted a vivid picture of the realities of 1960s America, particularly the unimaginably tragic murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968 and the courageous efforts of his supporters to keep his dream for equality alive, despite their loss. The subject matter of "Mule Train" is a perfect example of such efforts on the parts of these activists.

Just before his death King had teamed up with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to organize a march in support of ending poverty in the United States. Mere weeks after his death, The Poor People's Campaign, which involved marches from all across the country to Washington, D.C. in support of an economic Bill of Rights, was underway. The Mule Train involved itself in this event; hundreds of people (Freeman included) traveled by covered wagon from Marks, Miss., (one of the most impoverished areas in the country) to the nation's capital in support of financial equality.

The photographs of the Mule Train were separated into panels that each related to a specific aspect or event of the campaign. Memorable pictures included a shot of a devastated mourner at King's funeral and a photo of several white Mississippi college students holding a banner in support of the Mule Train reading, "Good Luck in D.C." Freeman explained they created the banner to show that "not every white person in Mississippi was a racist." The culmination of this epic event was the eventual arrival of the Mule Train in Washington, D.C. on Solidarity Day (June 19, 1968) to join in a celebration of the event along with 50,000 civil rights supporters.

Freeman's other exhibit, "Some Things of Value," featured a cross-section of the photographer's much more recent work from projects involving cultural continuity and change in communities of African heritage, both here and abroad. Subject matter for photos included everything from tribal ceremonies in Africa to shots of jazz clubs in Philadelphia and Chicago.

When asked what he thinks of the current generation's situation in comparison with that of the civil rights era, Freeman described the two as having similar make-ups of people but with "different sets of concerns." He expressed his view that today's generation is far too eager to go along with the ultimately hurtful practices of the government and the military-industrial complex, and that since the 1980s a "looking out for No. 1" mentality has prevailed - a direct opposite to the movements for solidarity and social change of the Civil Rights Era.

Both the Mule Train exhibit and "Some Things of Value" will be displayed from Oct. 22 to Nov. 17 in the Lederer Gallery in Brodie and the Lockhart Gallery on Main Street. Freeman's work brings an interesting cultural viewpoint to the Geneseo community and is not to be missed.