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Freedom Journey Finale to Focus on Civil Rights, Race, History and Social Justice

Providence Journal columnist Ed Fitzpatrick and NAACP Providence President James Vincent to Lead Armchair Discussion as Black History Month concludes
Photo by: Stephen Somerstein

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – To celebrate the culmination of an extraordinary exhibition of photographs documenting the historic Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march in Alabama in 1965, Roger Williams University and Providence Public Library will host a Freedom Journey 1965 finale event on Wednesday, Feb. 24, as the conclusion of Black History Month nears.

Providence Journal columnist Ed Fitzpatrick and NAACP Providence President James Vincent will lead an armchair discussion on the Civil Rights movement, the establishment of the NAACP and 21st-century issues of race, social justice and human rights. Local community members are invited to attend this free event, which is sponsored by Bank of America.

The discussion takes place in conjunction with the historic photographs on display in adjacent galleries. The University and Library collaborated to bring Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma-to-Montgomery March to Providence in November, as the New-York Historical Society exhibition launched its national tour in Rhode Island. The exhibition – which features striking images captured by Stephen Somerstein, a college student in 1965 who traveled to Alabama to document the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march – will remain on display through Feb. 28.

The Freedom Journey exhibition and armchair discussion finale coincide with the commemoration of two landmark events – this year’s 50th anniversary of the march from Selma as well as the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery on Dec. 6, 1865. The exhibition marks the culmination of 150 Years Later: The 13th Amendment and Race in America, the University’s yearlong series to celebrate the monumental legislation and to reflect on the current state of race relations in America.

The Selma-to-Montgomery march marked a turning point in the civil rights movement, and the 24-year-old Somerstein was on scene with more than 25,000 others in Alabama. The student newspaper photo editor gained unfettered access to Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Andrew Young, James Baldwin and also turned his lens to the men, women and children lining the route and viewing the march from their front porches and sidewalks – their expressions of hope, fear and apprehension a poignant reflection of this contentious time.

Until the exhibition launched in New York last January, Somerstein’s photos remained largely out of sight. After retiring in 2008 from a career as a physicist for the Lockheed Martin Company, he revisited his photo collection and embarked upon the effort to stage an exhibition of his remarkable images. Freedom Journey 1965 features 59 of Somerstein’s photographs.

The exhibition finale and armchair discussion takes place on Wednesday, Feb. 24, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Library’s third-floor auditorium. There is no charge to attend, but attendees are asked to RSVP by Friday, Feb. 19, to Melanie Stone at (401) 254-3322 or mstone@rwu.edu.

Anyone is welcome to visit the Library at 150 Empire Street in Providence for a self-guided tour of Freedom Journey 1965 during normal operating hours. Entrance is free, and no tickets are required. For more information on visiting hours or directions to the Library, visit http://www.provlib.org/directions-hours.