Duke University Acquires Major Collection of Civil Rights Photographer Danny Lyon

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University has acquired the archive of photographer and filmmaker Danny Lyon, who shot some of the most powerful and enduring images of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The collection encompasses Lyon’s work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and his continued documentation of the movement up to the present day through writing, photography, and film. It was acquired as a gift of the Kohler Foundation, a family foundation based in Kohler, Wisconsin, that supports the arts, education, and art preservation.

Born in Brooklyn in 1942, Lyon began taking pictures at the age of 17 and taught himself photography. After earning a degree in history from the University of Chicago, he met SNCC executive secretary James Forman, who convinced the twenty-year-old Lyon to join the youth-led, voting rights organization as staff photographer.

During his time with SNCC, Lyon captured the dramatic struggle for racial equality across the South, and his photographs became the visual backbone of SNCC’s campaigns. They depict the courage and commitment of young people in the movement, as well as the violence and hatred of segregationists who opposed them. Many of Lyon’s now-iconic images were instrumental in garnering public sympathy for the civil rights movement and inspiring others to get involved. This is the first time they have been assembled as a collection and made publicly available for research and consultation.

The collection includes nearly 8,500 individual images, most of which have never been published or seen outside of Lyon’s studio. The collection also contains correspondence, SNCC publications and posters, and materials related to the publication of two books of Lyon’s civil rights photography, The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality (simon & Schuster, 1964) and Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement (Twin Palms Publishers, 1992).

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