Let My People Go: Cairo, Illinois, 1967-1973

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9780809320851: Let My People Go: Cairo, Illinois, 1967-1973
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When a young black soldier at home on leave was found hanged in a Cairo, Illinois, police station in 1967, the black and white populations of this southern Illinois river city clashed violently, and the fury, once ignited, raged on for seven years. Jan Peterson Roddy has brought together the photographs of Preston Ewing Jr. with a wealth of collateral materials to document these turbulent years of racial strife.

At the core of this book and providing its essential vitality are 110 black-and-white photographs by Ewing, who at the time this struggle began was the local NAACP president in Cairo. Excerpts from oral histories place Ewing’s images in context and fill in the details of the story. Interspersed news clippings, newspaper headlines, and public announcements and documents help re-create a sense of what it was like to live in Cairo at the time. Essays by Marva Nelson and Cherise Smith put the attitudes, events, and images of Cairo in a national context and examine photography’s privileged position in presenting and preserving history.

The clash in Cairo serves as a microcosm of the national civil rights struggle in the late 1960s. Let My People Go provides the faces and voices of the movement. Sensational photographs of furious confrontation highlight some of these pages, but this pictorial and narrative account of Cairo’s story also shows that this was a multifaceted struggle involving, among other things, great persistence.

The story of Cairo is compelling. It is unique even as it illustrates the common American theme of ordinary people grappling for justice. The perspective is that of a black community that lived through this struggle and wants its story told. It is a story told through an uncommon blend of documentation, human recollection, and analysis.

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About the Author:

Preston Ewing Jr. is an education consultant with the National Center for the Educational Rights of Children. He has won an ACLU Award, an NAACP Outstanding Service Award, an Illinois Education Association Outstanding Human Relations Award, an Illinois Attorney General’s Service to the Disabled Award, a Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation Long and Continuous Service to Low Income Peoples Award, and a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Service Award.

Jan Peterson Roddy is an associate professor in the Department of Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where she teaches the production, history, and critical analysis of photography. She continues to collaborate with community groups and individuals regionally to create photographic archives and publications that chronicle the lives of historically marginalized peoples.

Review:

"The six individuals whose remembrances are included as narrative text are representatives of a diverse black community. My hope is that the truths that echo in these stories and pictures exemplify as much as is possible, the commitment, sacrifices, and pride of the larger black community of Cairo who came together against all odds." Jan Peterson Roddy, from the Editor’s Preface

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9780809320868: Let My People Go: Cairo, Illinois 1967-1973

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ISBN 10:  080932086X ISBN 13:  9780809320868
Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996
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