Artists, Photography

Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom

Lee Friedlander

On May 17, 1957, Lee Friedlander hadn’t yet turned twenty-three. But the attentive pictures he made that day pass down to us now the grace and noble determination of the people who made the pilgrimage. For one and all, not a bad day’s work. —Peter Galassi

Memory can be ephemeral and milestones often fade. Lee Friedlander’s photographs starkly and vividly capture the massive multigenerational and interracial, crowd of men and women who answered the call to join in a Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. on May 17, 1957. This extraordinary photographic record serves to indelibly etch this Pilgrimage onto the fabric of the mind. —Mildred Bond Roxborough, Special Assistant, NAACP

This is the most morally arousing book I have seen in a long time. Lee Friedlander’s humble and humane pictures are an eloquent record of a democracy bestirred. They show the victims of American society rescuing the honor of American society. I wish that “Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom” were not so urgently relevant to the racial circumstances of our own day—but alas, it is. —Leon Wieseltier

On May 17, 1957, Lee Friedlander was given full access to photograph the participants of the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington, D.C. This extraordinary event brought together many of the great thinkers and leaders of the civil rights movement and solidified Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s position as its preeminent leader. The 58 previously unpublished photographs reproduced as duotones in this important and beautifully produced commemorative record are among Friedlander’s earliest work. With his full access to the presenters stage, Friedlander was able to portray the famous individuals at the event—Mahalia Jackson, A. Philip Randolph, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee among many others—as well as the audience of some 25,000 men, women, and children who gathered to give voice and energy to the ideas embattled by the movement. Timed with the three-year anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Prayer Pilgrimage placed pressure on the Eisenhower administration to uphold desegregation in the South and made voting rights a focal point of the struggle for equality. Also included in this publication is a facsimile typescript from the King Center of MLK s Give Us the Ballot speech and additional ephemera from the march, including the printed program and the Call to Prayer distributed to participants. The complete (and only existing) set of the 58 prints, acquired by the Yale University Art Gallery, will be on exhibition at the Gallery and other venues in 2017 in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Prayer Pilgrimage.
88 pages / 8 1/2 x 9 inches / 58 black-and-white illustrations / Published by Eakins Press Foundation / 2015
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-0871300713
    Price $45; Members $36