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The Criminal Type

My wall of Freedom Rider mugshots and portraits at the “Criminal Type,” a show curated by Elizabeth Breiner and now up thru late October at ApexArt in lower Manhattan. ⁣⁣⁣

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At the top, the first 240 Riders arrested in Jackson, MS, in chronological order (by group). At the bottom, 120 profiles selected and arranged by me. In between, five portraits and bios from my book.⁣⁣⁣

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I loved making all of this, but at the moment I’m very partial to the profile mural. Shorn of their partners, the profiles turn out to be unexpected and surprisingly tender portraits. Freed of their police ID slates but unable to make a face for the camera, the Riders must offer themselves up undefended. The camera records portraits in curl, sideburn, and jawline, the cock of the head, the squaring of shoulders. ⁣⁣⁣

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Amassed, all moving in the same direction, the Riders are a movement, they are *the* movement, they are a portrait of the movement, they are a portrait of America in 1961.

A Birmingham Tableau

 

Photo by Tommy Langston: A Klan-led mob beats a Freedom Rider at the Birmingham Bus Station, May 14, 1961

Fifty-eight years ago today the Freedom Riders were attacked twice in Alabama, yielding two iconic images of the movement. First came the burning bus just outside Anniston, the result of a Klan firebomb. Later in the day, when another group of Riders arrived at the Birmingham bus station, Tommy Langston, a longtime PJ for the Birmingham Post-Herald, captured the beating of a Rider.  

It was the only photograph Langston could make that day before he too was attacked.       

“They grabbed the Rolleiflex and smashed the lens,” said Langston. “I had a Minolta around my neck, and they grabbed the strap and nearly choked me to death. I just hit the ground and tried to cover my face. I think one of them was swinging a chain, because it caught me right across the face and broke my glasses. Then they started kicking me in the ribs. I don’t know if they thought I was dead, but finally they stopped.”

The next day, this picture ran on the front pages of newspapers around the country and around the world. In 1961, in concert with similar photos, it inspired many of the Riders to join the campaign. Today it remains an instructive tableau of white violence and rage, and rewards close study.

Remembering Marvin Rich

by Dave Dennis

Marvin Rich, a longtime leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) who was instrumental in organizing the Freedom Rides as well as later campaigns, died on December 29, 2018.

Marvin Rich and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, date unknown, courtesy of the CORE NYC archive

As a student at Washington University in St. Louis in 1946, Rich helped found a chapter of CORE and integrate the university. By 1961 he was working in CORE’s national office, in New York City. He later organized voting drives in the South with CORE and other organizations, and in 1973 helped found the National Coaltion Against Censorship

There’s precious little about Rich online, and as of yet no New York Times or Washington Post obituary. Below is a remembrance that Dave Dennis wrote in an email to friends and colleagues. It appears here with his permission. Dennis helped found the New Orleans chapter of CORE in 1960, was a Freedom Rider in 1961, and later, as a CORE field organizer, worked directly with Rich on campaigns in Louisiana and Mississippi, including Freedom Summer.

Both Marvin and Evie [Evelyn Rich, his wife, who survives him] played important roles in the Civil Rights Movement and both are part of that special group of people who made many sacrifices in the struggle for justice and made personal contributions which led to made major changes in the country.  
I met Marvin and Evie on my first trip to New York City in the summer of 1961. I was a Freedom Rider from the New Orleans chapter of CORE, and Marvin was the public-relations director for the national office of CORE, in New York. It was not only my first trip to New York but my first trip anywhere in the the north. I quickly found myself on the receiving-end of many jokes as the less experienced young man from the south. On my second trip to New York the following October, I wore a seersucker suit — it was 80 degrees in Louisiana but barely in the 30s in New York. That error is forever etched in my memory

Marvin took the time to teach me the “ropes” and guide me through the maze that was this new environment. He teamed me with Jerome Smith [another Freedom Rider from New Orleans CORE] to work with such people as James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry to help raise funds to support the Freedom Rides and to recruit new Riders.

Evelyn and Marvin Rich in 2009, courtesy the Harlem CORE archive

Rich was always there when CORE field secretaries needed something from the national office — always there in time of need. He was our life line. He maintained contact with the national political leaders who were sympathetic to what we were doing. Although he was based in New York with the tremendous responsibility of raising funds to support CORE activities nationally and to manage all the important affairs of CORE, he made frequent visits to the South. On one of those trips to Mississippi in 1964, he was severely beaten as he observed a voter-registration demonstration in Holmes County.

After leaving CORE in 1965, I joined Marvin as part of his staff when he was the director of the Southern Education Defense Fund for Racial Equality (SEDFRE), which was initiating voter registration drives across the South. Marvin also made it possible for me to receive the necessary funds to return to college and complete my undergraduate and post-graduate work.  I will be forever grateful.

More important than his role in the movement was Marvin the family man. He and Evie were and are models of what love and family should be. Marvin was like a big brother to me. One of my most memorable moments with Marvin was when my wife and I visited Evie and Marvin a couple of years ago. Marvin was having some health problems and Evie informed us that Marvin might have problems remembering me. When we arrived at the door, Marvin gave me that great grin and hug and called my name. You never forget friendship and love. He has been and will always be my rock. Thanks, Evie, for sharing him with us

AP news story from June 5, 1961
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