The New York Times has uncovered hundreds of archived photos from pivotal moments in Black history and will release at least one of these images every day during Black History Month. From an endearing profile of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from his appearance on NBC News, to a simple image of a white child sharing the same blackboard with his Black classmate after Princeton school integration, these images capture the hardships of the Civil Rights era.
During this series the Times will feature a number of beloved icons from the sports and entertainment world, such as Jackie Robinson and hip-hop group Run DMC. Much of the backstories to these photos are unknown. For example, on Feb. 14, 1949, just before Robinson became the first Black player to receive the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award, he was invited to speak to the Sociology Society at City College in New York. The only information known is from the original caption of the photo, “his work with the Harlem boys’ groups,” leading us to believe his talks were about inspiring inner city youth.
In 1965, the nation was introduced to a 7-foot-tall, 17-year-old student athlete by the name of Lew Alcindor. Pictured here rooting his team on during a high school championship game, Alcindor was heavily recruited, even harassed, over his talent. He played basketball and got his education at UCLA and eventually entered a successful NBA career. In 1971, the day after he led the Milwaukee Bucks to a championship, Alcindor changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He may be best remembered for his role as Captain Roger Murdock in the 1980 film “Airplane!”
One of the greatest authors in American literature history, James Baldwin, gave a 1972 interview to the New York Times that was featured on the culture pages. That day the photographer, Jack Manning, took many more photos than the 23 frames in the NY Times collage. The key hurdle Manning had to overcome was Mr. Baldwin’s own self-consciousness about his looks, an insecurity that was forced on him by his stepfather at a young age. The Times reports: “His stepfather made fun of him when he was growing up, ridiculing his frog eyes and calling him the ugliest boy he had ever seen.” Out of the 23 frames that appear in this month’s series by the Times, it was frame 19 that got featured in the culture pages back in ’72.
In 1964, 16 years after Princeton elementary schools integrated their classrooms, the Times released a feature investigating the effect of integration. On June 21 of that year the Times wrote, “Princeton’s two elementary schools were integrated 16 years ago, thus began a three-act racial drama — first, a period of Negro hopes; next, Negro frustration and disillusionment; and then, a limited degree of fulfillment.” Princeton was one of the first models for school integration across the country.
Perhaps the most graphic and violent image of this collection is the damage of an attack on Malcolm X’s family home. Protesters set the civil rights activist’s house in flames, endangering his wife and four daughters. The Times published an article on Feb. 15, 1965, but refrained from using this image that photographer Don Hogan Charles had captured when he walked through the house to document the destruction.
As current race relations continue fostering tension, the New York Times is highlighting the progress the country has made since its formation. From slavery to segregation to riots, Black History Month is an important reminder of the push for equality that unrepresented populations still fight for.