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Behind the Lens: Selma, 50 Years Later

Summary: 
We’ve chosen a gallery on the 50th anniversary of that day in Selma to kick off a new way of presenting photographs. This "Behind the Lens" series of galleries will present different perspective on life here at the White House or on the road.

March 7, 1965. It became known as "Bloody Sunday." Six hundred people defied the warnings of authorities and attempted to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma, Alabama, to show the desire of black American citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

I was a young boy growing up in Massachusetts at the time, and I can’t say that I was aware of what was happening in Selma. I didn’t know the marchers were attacked at the bridge with billy clubs and tear gas. I didn’t know that there was this much hatred in the South between blacks and whites.

In later years, as I became interested in photojournalism, it was the photographs that brought that awful day to life for me.

I came to admire the photographs, especially of Charles Moore — a photojournalist who was documenting civil rights for Life magazine. I probably learned more about what had happened on that day and that period of time by studying his photographs than I did in any history class I ever had in school. For me, the photographs depicted the horror and the hatred in a way that words couldn’t.

Last Saturday, as I accompanied the Obama family to Selma for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I couldn’t help but think of the photographs taken by Charles Moore and other brave photojournalists 50 years ago. Their photographs, taken ostensibly for daily and weekly publications, have now become powerful images for history.

Their frozen moments in time are with us forever.

The Obama family join hands as they begin the march with the foot soldiers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Last Saturday, my job was much easier. There were no billy clubs or tear gas. Along with colleague Lawrence Jackson, I was there to also capture moments in time for history. But these were symbolic and celebratory moments.

John Lewis, 50 years later, was not being clubbed at the bridge; he was there as a Congressman from Georgia, introducing the President of the United States. Activist Amelia Boynton Robinson was not being knocked unconscious by a state trooper; as a 103-year-old, she was there in her wheelchair, marching across that same bridge next to the President and First Lady.

These were just two of the dozens of foot soldiers in attendance who had marched that day 50 years ago and helped changed the course of history. Without them, it’s unlikely that I would have been there documenting my boss, Barack Obama — the first African-American to become President of the United States.

It is perhaps fitting that we’ve chosen a gallery on the 50th anniversary of that day in Selma to kick off a new way of presenting photographs. In the weeks and months to come, we’ll regularly post galleries like this — providing a different perspective on life here at the White House or on the road. Sometimes it will be a series of thematic images. Other times, it might just be a single photo with a great story behind it. Take a look, and check back for more.


Aboard Air Force One en route to Alabama, President Obama signs H.R. 432 authorizing the Congressional Gold Medal to the

Aboard Air Force One en route to Alabama, President Obama signs H.R. 432 authorizing the Congressional Gold Medal to the "Foot Soldiers" who participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March during March of 1965. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


In Selma, the President greets former foot soldier Amelia Boynton Robinson, 103 years old, backstage before the ceremony. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In Selma, the President greets former foot soldier Amelia Boynton Robinson, 103 years old, backstage before the ceremony. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The President speaks to the foot soldiers who attended the 50th anniversary event. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The President speaks to the foot soldiers who attended the 50th anniversary event. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The President hugs Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., as her parents, Martin Luther King III and Andrea Waters look on. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The President hugs Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., as her parents, Martin Luther King III and Andrea Waters look on. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The President and First Lady hold hands as they listen to Rep. John Lewis speak at the ceremony. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The President and First Lady hold hands as they listen to Rep. John Lewis speak at the ceremony. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Members of the audience listen to Rep. John Lewis. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Members of the audience listen to Rep. John Lewis. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The President hugs Rep. John Lewis after his introduction. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The President hugs Rep. John Lewis after his introduction. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


President Obama delivers remarks at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

President Obama delivers remarks at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)


Tens of thousands of people attended the ceremony. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Tens of thousands of people attended the ceremony. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)


A Secret Service officer stands post as the President speaks. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

A Secret Service officer stands post as the President speaks. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Malia and Sasha Obama and other family, friends, and White House staff listen to the President. Attorney General Eric Holder is at far left. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Malia and Sasha Obama and other family, friends, and White House staff listen to the President. Attorney General Eric Holder is at far left. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The President points towards the bridge during his speech. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The President points towards the bridge during his speech. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Rep. John Lewis holds hands with President Obama during a prayer at the ceremony. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Rep. John Lewis holds hands with President Obama during a prayer at the ceremony. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush participated in the program. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush participated in the program. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The President greets members of the audience following his remarks. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The President greets members of the audience following his remarks. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


First Lady Michelle Obama adjusts the bow in the hair of a young girl. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

First Lady Michelle Obama adjusts the bow in the hair of a young girl. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The President greets a youngster in the crowd. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The President greets a youngster in the crowd. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The President waves to the crowd. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The President waves to the crowd. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Backstage, former President Bush talks with Sasha and Malia Obama and Marian Robinson. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Backstage, former President Bush talks with Sasha and Malia Obama and Marian Robinson. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The Obama family join hands as they begin the march with the foot soldiers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The Obama family join hands as they begin the march with the foot soldiers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)


The march continues across the bridge. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The march continues across the bridge. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The Obamas and the Bushes continue across the bridge. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The Obamas and the Bushes continue across the bridge. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)


The Obama family and Attorney General Eric Holder and his family listen to tour guide Felicia Pittway at the National Voting Rights Museum. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The Obama family and Attorney General Eric Holder and his family listen to tour guide Felecia Pettway at the National Voting Rights Museum. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The Obama family inspects a voting machine at the museum. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The Obama family inspects a voting machine at the museum. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The President stands inside a replica prison cell at the museum. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The President stands inside a replica prison cell at the museum. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


CBS-TV reporter Bill Plante, who covered "Bloody Sunday" 50 years ago, interviews the President at the museum. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

CBS-TV reporter Bill Plante, who covered "Bloody Sunday" 50 years ago, interviews the President at the museum. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


The President, First Lady, Marian Robinson and Malia board Air Force One at Maxwell Air Force Base en route back to Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The President, First Lady, Marian Robinson, and Malia board Air Force One at Maxwell Air Force Base en route back to Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


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