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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Breach of Peace: May 30 @ 5:00

Mississippi native Eric Etheridge has recently published a coffee table book of photography called Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders that portrays the historic summer of 1961 through interviews of the former freedom riders, and their current portraits alongside their mugshots from the time. 

  Having grown up in Jackson, I can't remember the first time I was made aware of segregation, or the role our state played in the civil rights movement. Though I can't remember when I learned about this part of our history, I've always been sensitive to the attitude of some people in our community: that these events happened in our past, and though they are an important and controversial part of history, we ought not dwell upon them but instead, continue to move forward and distance ourselves from the past. Thus, it came as quite a shock in college when my sociology class read Doug McAdams' book, Freedom Summer. 

Reading Freedom Summer forced me to come face to face with this reality: I grew up believing that a great temporal and physical distance existed between me and my culture's not so distant past when, in fact, the people in Freedom Summer filled the streets of my hometown in the not so distant past. The images depicting that summer were filled with tanks, policemen and rioters. It was at this point that I finally understood that these are people I pass in my neighborhood and stand in line behind in the grocery store. 

 Many of the documents and mug shots from that summer remain forever in posterity in the files of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History where Etheridge discovered them and came up with the idea to use them to recreate this history. In his introduction,Etheridge mentions that he found no evidence that the Sovereignty Commission used the mug shots after they were filed, but expresses his belief of their importance today, saying: "... they're invaluable to us today. They give us the chance to take the measure of these men and women in the very heat of battle, and perhaps to take measure of ourselves in their responding gaze. Here they are, four decades later, patiently and urgently awaiting our reply," (29). In my humble opinion, through his interviews and the creation of Breach of Peace, forty years later Etheridge attempts to respond to their gazes.   

 Mr. Etheridge will be at Lemuria signing Breach of Peace on Friday, May 30 at 5:00 and giving a short talk at 5:30... we hope to see you all there to celebrate this beautiful book!