Featured Work: We Shall Overcome; Freedom Summer Bus

Whenever I visit an art museum, I always look forward to seeing how the art and artifacts featured in the exhibits will remind us of the past and present. The Chasing Light exhibition allows viewers to do just that while seeing different moments captured in time. One photograph that stands out to me is, We Shall Overcome; Freedom Summer Bus, 1964, by Steve Schapiro because it gives us a glimpse of what life was like in the 1960s on the campus of the Western College for Women, now Miami University’s Western Campus.

The photograph was taken during Freedom Summer, a voter registration project that aimed to increase the number of Black voters registered in Mississippi. Oxford, Ohio was the primary place where volunteers gathered for orientation and trained to go into the deep South to set up Freedom Schools and community centers. Approximately 1,000 volunteers trained in Oxford, practicing non-violent resistance techniques, and preparing to canvas and teach across the states.

The moment captured in this photo demonstrates the unity of the volunteers who came together to serve as activists for Black voters. Before boarding the bus for their journey south, students linked arm to arm to sing together. They sang “We Shall Overcome,” along with many other songs to empower them before beginning their mission. The connected line of students represents the hope, strength, and unity of the students.

I personally found this photograph to be really empowering because it shows college students around our age working together to fight for equality and demand social justice. The themes in this photo are important to understand and reflect on, during the recent national attention for racial injustice and the fight for equality. 

By exploring this photograph, and others in the exhibit, visitors are able to reflect on the past and have meaningful conversations about present issues such as social injustices.

Come visit the Chasing Light exhibit at the Miami University Art Museum this semester to see more photos that will connect you to the past online at our virtual exhibition here, or in-person by appointment.

You can learn more about Freedom Summer by visiting the Celebrating Freedom page and by visiting the memorial next to Kumler Chapel dedicated to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. These three activists who participated in Freedom Summer training in Oxford were murdered in Mississippi after arriving in the South to register Black voters in Mississippi. The memorial is on Western campus and includes three trees that were planted to honor each one of the three men who were killed.

Learn more about photographer Steve Schapiro and his work during a live-streamed program with the artist on Thursday, October 15, 2020, at 6 PM. Learn more about this event and sign up for the access link here.

Freedom in Black and White: The Making of a Photographer-Activist [Virtual]: Steve Schapiro

Thursday, October 15, 2020, 6 PM
Artist Steve Shapiro, Chicago, Illinois
Photojournalist Steve Schapiro is best known for his civil rights photographs. His most recognizable images are of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project (Freedom Summer) and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. 
He is also an acclaimed celebrity and film set photographer.  Schapiro will discuss his work in the context of American social history.
This lecture is co-sponsored with the Contemporary Art Forum.
Support for this program comes from FOTOFOCUS 2020.