Birmingham to open exhibit of iconic civil rights photographer Chris McNair

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is holding a press conference following his letter from the Birmingham Jail in 1963. Along with Dr. King are Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, Andrew Young and Reverend Ralph Abernathy. Photo by Chris McNair

By Sigourney Bell

As Birmingham continues commemorating the 60th anniversary of its pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, city officials on Tuesday announced a new exhibit titled “Through His Eye: The Photography of Chris McNair.”

The free exhibit, featuring 22 of McNair’s photos, is what Edward Bowser, the city’s deputy director of communications, described during an exclusive interview Monday with NABJ JSHOP students as “History coming to light.”

McNair was a milkman who opened a photography studio in 1962, right when Birmingham became a focal point during the Civil Rights movement. McNair and his camera lens were often front and center as his work includes iconic images of civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Rosa Parks and A.G. Gaston, a prominent Birmingham businessman.

The exhibit also centers around McNair’s daughter, Denise. The 11-year-old was one of four little girls tragically killed during the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 that led to numerous protests. Bowser said McNair’s family wanted to share the photos to not only help tell their story, but also give a new perspective that is not as well known to the public.

“Most of these images have never been seen before,” Bowser said, as the exhibit’s purpose is “not to relive the past, but instead let the past inform our future.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin agrees.

“This exhibition not only showcases his artistic prowess but also serves as a moving tribute to leaders of the movement, foot soldiers and McNair’s daughter Denise, reminding us of the sacrifices made during those challenging times,” Woodfin said in a news release.

Open to the public, the exhibit will run from Tuesday through Sept. 16 on the second floor at Birmingham City Hall, 710 20th Street North.

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