By Leonard Freed
Getty. 108 pp. $29.95
History has a tendency to abbreviate complex stories in statue-worthy figures and bullet-point moments. The civil rights era is summed up by Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, buses and police dogs. But “This Is the Day,” by Magnum photographer Leonard Freed, fleshes out the 1963 March on Washington, showing King only once and focusing instead on the shifting emotions of the crowd of 250,000.
Freed captures the weariness and reflection of the marchers, many of whom made long journeys by bus, bicycle and even roller skate. In several rapid-fire sequences, he shows attendees veering from quiet moments to spirited bursts of singing.
The marchers came from different races and walks of life: blacks and whites, labor organizers and civil rights activists, the religious and the secular. In Freed’s photographs, black and white marchers are united in unremarkable ways, as if they had traveled the road to civil rights as one race. Perhaps this was what Freed intended, for although he chronicled social inequalities throughout his career, his March on Washington series gave us an optimistic look at what race relations could be.
As we approach the march’s 50th anniversary, “This Is the Day” is an important lens through which to relive one of the peak moments of the civil rights movement.