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Birmingham, Alabama
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© Bob Adelman/Magnum Photos

Bob Adelman
American, Birmingham, Alabama, May, 1963
Gelatin silver print
7 x 10 1/2 in.
2005.34.5

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This iconic and frequently published image of the Civil Rights movement captures a moment when Birmingham, Alabama Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor ordered police to use water cannons to break up a demonstration. Photojournalist Bob Adelman's framing emphasizes the results of the intense stream of water exploding from the right side of the screen onto the African-American protestors, leaving the viewer to see them literally as victims of an unseen force. The bright water contrasts with the demonstrators' dark skin and clothing and the trees to their right. To the left, two men help a young woman stagger away from the torrent.

Civil rights leaders used Birmingham as a flashpoint, knowing that city leaders were among the most steadfastly opposed to integration. On that day, other photographers captured police using attack dogs on the marchers. Images of the event depict a powerful contrast between peaceful, civil protestors and the Birmingham Public Safety officials' expression of deep-rooted prejudice. Ultimately, these events and the widespread press coverage of them helped spur a movement that led to ratification of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.