Opening weekend of THIS LIGHT shines with panel, MLK Jr. celebration

January 25, 2015

More than 1,600 Attend Preview, Panel Discussion, MLK Jr. Day Celebration

Allentown, PA—Opening weekend of an important and powerful photography exhibition at the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley was one of the most successful on record for the organization, which hopes to stir emotion and inspire conversations about social justice now through May 15, when the exhibition closes. More than sixteen hundred Museum members, community leaders, and visitors viewed This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement in its first three days. The traveling exhibition of 156 black-and-white images, organized by the Center for Documentary Expression and Art, in Salt Lake City, presents the work of nine photographers who in the 1960s lived and photographed from within the Southern Freedom Movement. Allentown is the first northern location for the exhibition.

“It was incredible to look through the eyes of the photographers with such intensity…. Riveting.… I saw history from a perspective I never knew…. The exhibit is fabulous. It has brought me to tears.” These are just some of the sentiments visitors recorded in the Museum’s comment book over the course of the weekend.

Kicking things off on Saturday, January 16, four-hundred-plus Museum members and community leaders got an exclusive first look at This Light of Ours during an evening preview. A musical backdrop of protest songs and socially conscious anthems was selected and introduced by Alan Jennings, executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. The playlist included classics of the civil rights era such as “We Shall Overcome” by Mahalia Jackson, “Freedom Highway” by the Staple Singers, “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield, and “The Times They Are a-Changin’” by Bob Dylan but also “Keep the Ball Rolling” by Jay & the Techniques, a multiracial pop group from Allentown who had a Top 10 hit in 1967 with its debut single, “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie.” Special guests included Dan Bosket, Pam and Rep. Charlie Dent, Ari and Alvaro Diaz, Lucy Gans and Leslie Fletcher, Norman Girardot and Diane Labelle, Ken Levin, David Haas, Margo Hobbs, Ann and John Lalik, Rev. Christine Nelson, David Sestak, Megan and Ron Skinner, Mike Stershic, Dan Talley, Anthony Viscardi and Cheryl Dugan, Luke Wynne and Barbara Dorio.

For opening day of This Light, Sunday, January 17, the Museum presented a panel discussion at 1 p.m. that gathered together five of the nine photographers in the exhibition. Bob Fletcher, Matt Herron, Herbert Randall Jr., Maria Varela, and Tamio Wakayama provided poignant stories from the front lines of the Movement while panel moderator Leslie Kelen, executive director of the Center for Documentary Expression and Art, explained how and why the exhibition had been organized. Matt Herron, who curated the exhibition, recalled being at a demonstration when a white police officer tore an American flag from the hands of a five year old African American boy. Bob Fletcher recounted his arrest while photographing a picket line in Harlem. Herbert Randall pointed out that the first photograph he took as an activist was of Movement volunteers’ cars having been shot up in Mississippi. Tamio Wakayama commented on the strength and grace of the people he met during the Movement. Referring to one of his photos of an African American woman that is included in the exhibition, he said, “This woman went through Jim Crow slavery, the whole gamut of the black experience in America, and came out of it beautiful.” The Museum’s auditorium was packed with 130 for the panel—a full house, with some of the audience standing—and all in all more than 650 visitors saw the exhibition that day.

“The panel was a great moment,” said Matt Herron. Like the exhibition itself, “It really is a kind of organizing in which you try to enter people’s minds and in some way change their point of view about themselves and about the world around them.”

After the panel discussion, which lasted two and a half hours and was followed by an exhibition-catalogue-signing session, Herbert Randall observed, “It’s important to share the stories that we’ve shared because obviously if you don’t take care of problems, the problem will still exist and you’ll just have to repeat it.” Added Maria Varela, “The work is not done.”

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, January 18, the Museum partnered with the Allentown chapter of the NAACP and the United Black Christian Ministers' Alliance to offer families a full day of activities, extended hours, and free admission. In the Frank Lloyd Wright Library, staffers recorded the stories of people who had lived through the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, capturing their memories for posterity in digital format. Upstairs in Art Ways Interactive Family Gallery, kids created posters filled with words and images expressing positive messages of inclusion. St. James AME Church and Union Baptist Church held their annual MLK Day luncheon in the Museum’s auditorium, then toured the galleries. Actress Colette Gaiter led an interactive performance called Stand Up or Sit In, about nonviolent protest strategies, and two films played in succession in Rodale Classroom: The Black Power Mixtape, 1967–1975 (2011) and 1964 (2014). Again, more than six hundred visitors saw the exhibition and participated in activities aimed at educating and encouraging reflection on Dr. King’s—and the Civil Right Movement’s—legacy.

Upcoming programing related to This Light of Ours includes a talk on Sunday, March 6, by Aram Goudsouzian, author of Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March against Fear; a performance by TV and stage actress Anna Deavere Smith (Nurse Jackie, The West Wing) on Friday, April 8, at Muhlenberg College; and an ongoing series at Civic Theatre of Allentown, with a film a month related to civil rights from January through May.

For a complete listing of programing visit

An audio tour of This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement is available at www.This

This Light of Ours was organized by the Center for Documentary Expression and Art. Major support for the exhibition has been provided by the Bruce W. Bastian Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Its presentation at the Allentown Art Museum has been supported through the generosity of the Audrey and Bernard Berman Family Fund, the Estelle Browne-Pallrand Charitable Trust, the Leon C. and June W. Holt Endowment, the Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation, the Rider-Pool Foundation, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the County of Lehigh, and the more than two thousand dedicated members of the Museum.


The Allentown Art Museum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that participates in the cultural, educational, and economic life of the Lehigh Valley. Defined by a unique combination of tradition and innovation, our collections, educational partnerships, collaborative and community based programs, and exhibitions are dedicated to inspiring the broadest possible public engagement, access, and service. For more information please visit



Media Contact:
Chris Potash
(610) 432-4333 ext 125 cpotash [at] allentownartmuseum [dot] org