MIAMI BEACH — Flipping through a stack of color images he shot during a 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., photographer Bob Adelman is casual about the history they represent.
He pauses at the image of a group of people with clasped hands raised in victory at a Montgomery cab stand, where people had gathered during the city's long bus boycott a decade earlier, and calls them "real King fans." Pointing to the second floor of the Alabama Capitol, behind a line of green-helmeted troops, he chuckles as he remembers, "Gov. Wallace was hiding behind the curtains up there."
Then there's the man with his fist raised in mid-speech, whom he calls "Doc" — better known as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Now they seem like momentous events. At the time, they were covered in the back pages of newspapers, for the most part. The only time blacks appeared in newspapers at that time was when there was violence," Adelman said.
The images are among roughly 150 assembled at Nova Southeastern University's Museum of Art-Fort Lauderdale for an exhibit marking the half-century since the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.
Adelman volunteered his services as a photographer to the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He went on to shoot national magazine covers and the front pages of national newspapers, but he always considered himself an activist.
"Unlike photojournalists trying to get the shot, this is somebody that is part of the circle really recognizing the role he can play in bringing about change through his images," museum director Bonnie Clearwater said.
The exhibit is titled "The Movement," referring to both the efforts to end segregation in the United States and Adelman's aesthetic as a photographer, Clearwater said.
Adelman wanted to capture the spirit of the demonstrations on film, but frame after frame focuses on bodies — how the people in the movement physically moved.
Another image from the march to Montgomery shows King and his wife at the front of a crowd that seems endless behind them, in spite of the rain that has dampened their clothes.
"I told my friends, 'This is history,' even though it was not apparent to many people," Adelman said. "I thought this using your body to try to change things, whether you tried to vote or went to the bathroom or you were trying to go into a movie theater or whatever — that was inescapable and it was I guess very, very provocative and confrontational."
In his Miami Beach home, above a fireplace filled with dozens of the books he has published, hangs Adelman's iconic image of King delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, raising his right hand over his head as he delivers the words of an old spiritual, "Free at last! Free at Last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
The contact sheet with that image has been enlarged for the exhibit. The frame is in the center of a row of negatives and has a crack through its center. It was reprinted so many times that the negative tore.