‘North Carolina, 1950’ packed a punch for the ages

“As the civil rights movement heated up in the ’60s and ’70s, [the work of Magnum photographers] became increasingly pointed and political, but they were also often overshadowed by the swelling media coverage of spectacular and typically violent scenes. It was easier to distill the emblematic structures of Jim Crow during the more quiescent 1950s, which Elliott Erwitt did particularly well in a defining pair of drinking-fountain photographs whose symbolic function is reflected in part by their shared and nondescriptive caption: ‘North Carolina, 1950.’

“Reproduced widely, the second image [which adds a black man drinking from the “Colored” fountain] has become the most frequently demanded photograph in Magnum’s extensive civil rights archive. It has also become, I would argue, the iconic Jim Crow photograph….”

— From “Signs of the Times: The Visual Politics of Jim Crow” by Elizabeth Abel (2010)

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