In that sense, it is wholly appropriate that the Anti-Defamation League last week honored 12 former photographers for The Birmingham News. Those journalists' work at the violent center of the civil rights movement helped change nationwide public opinion for the better.
Today, their published images still resonate fear and dread: police dogs unleashed on black protestors, the carnage at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, school children taunted by racists as they tried to go to class, the deep and embedded injustice of racial inequality in Alabama and the South.
As painful as they were, those photographs cast needed light on the depths of black Americans' plight.
Honoring those men, and their work, is an action easy to cheer.
Those Birmingham journalists join a heady list of reporters, photographers and editors who accepted the challenges — and dangers — of covering sit-ins and protests, mob attacks and bus burnings, school integrations and emotional rallies for segregation's end.
All across the South, journalists felt the dangers of entering the civil rights debate. Several years ago, respected journalists Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff penned The Race Beat, an expansive and shocking look at those who took on civil rights assignments in the South — and those whose own bigotry kept them on the sidelines.
Their work serves today as a timeless reminder of the passion for journalism — and, in many cases, for racial equality — that permeated the souls of those who chronicled the movement. From Birmingham to Jackson, from Little Rock to Montgomery, from Anniston to the interstate travels of the Freedom Riders, dedicated editors, reporters and photographers played a vital role in bringing the movement to the kitchen tables and living rooms of all Americans.
Remembering the examples set by photographers in Birmingham and journalists across the South is a worthy endeavor. Without their work, and without them, the civil rights movement might have taken an entirely different path.