At 15 years of age, on September 1957, Dorothy Counts
was one of the first black students admitted to the Harry Harding High School, in Charlotte, North Carolina. After four days of harassment that threatened her safety, her parents forced her to withdraw from the school. …
The harassment started when the wife of John Z. Warlick, the leader of the White Citizens Council, urged the boys to “keep her out” and at the same time, implored the girls to spit on her, saying, “spit on her, girls, spit on her.” Dorothy walked by without reacting, but told the press that many people threw rocks at her—most of which landed in front of her feet—and that many spat on her back. More abuse followed that day. She had trash thrown at her while eating her dinner and the teachers ignored her. The following day, she befriended two white girls, but they soon drew back because of harassment from other classmates. Her family received threatening phone calls. (source)
What if the events captured in some iconic images had not occurred? Pavel Maria Smejkal has altered some images, to great effect:
This is so evocative: it shows an alternative history, the history of a better humanity.
More iconic images of human rights violations are here.
This image is from the war in Algeria that followed the military government’s cancellation of the 1992 elections. During the war, which climaxed in 1997, Islamic fractions carried out numerous massacres of villagers, often in most horrific ways.
The day after the massacre of Bentalha, on 23 September 1997, Hocine Zaourar, who was working for AFP in Algeria, was prevented by the authorities from photographing the victims in hospitals. On exiting a hospital, he took this picture of a woman who lost three members of her family. Afterwards, she showed her displeasure at the name given to the picture since she was a Muslim and didn’t want to be identified with the Christian Madonna, and tried to sue AFP for defamation and exploitation of human suffering.
Osama bin Laden is seen at an undisclosed location in this television image broadcast October 7, 2001. Bin Laden praised God for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and swore America “will never dream of security” until “the infidel’s armies leave the land of Muhammad.”
May 3, 1999, Kosovar refugee Agim Shala, 2 years old, is passed through the barbed wire fence into the hands of grandparents at the camp run by United Arab Emirates in Kukes, Albania. The members of the large Shala family were reunited here after fleeing Prizren in Kosovo during the conflict. (The grandparents had just crossed the border at Morina). The relatives who just arrived had to stay outside the camp until shelter was available. The next day members of the family had tents inside. The fence was the scene of many reunions. When the peace agreement was signed, they returned to Prizren to find their homes only mildly damaged. There were tears of joy and sadness from the family as the children were passed through the fence, symbolic of the innocence and horror of the conflict.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning photo was taken by Carol Guzy in 1999 for The Washington Post.
- Iconic Images of Human Rights Violations (57): Child Survivors of the Holocaust (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)
- Iconic Images of Human Rights Violations (59): World’s Youngest Mother (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)
- Kosovo PM ‘in organ trafficking link’ (bbc.co.uk)
Lina Medina is the world’s youngest confirmed mother in medical history. Born in Peru on 27 September 1933, Lina was brought to a hospital by her parents at the age of 5 because of an increasing abdominal size. Originally thought to have tumor, her doctors determined that she was in fact seven months pregnant. Dr. Gerardo Lozada took her to Lima, Peru, prior to the surgery to have other specialists confirm that Lina was in fact pregnant. A month and a half later, on 14 May 1939, she gave birth to a boy by cesarean section necessitated by her small pelvis. Her menarche had occurred at eight months of age (or 2½ according to a different article) and she had prominent breast development by the age of four. Extreme precocious puberty in children 5 or under is very uncommon.
Her son weighed 2.7 kg at birth and was named Gerardo after her doctor. Gerardo was raised believing that Lina was his sister, but found out at the age of ten that she was his mother. He grew up healthy but died in 1979 at the age of 40 of a disease of the bone marrow. There was never evidence that Lina Medina’s pregnancy occurred in any but the usual way, but she never revealed the father of the child, nor the circumstances of her impregnation. Dr. Escomel suggested she might not actually know herself. Lina’s father was arrested on suspicion of rape and incest, but was later released due to lack of evidence.
Lina is apparently still alive today.
- 10-Year-Old in Spain Is Not the First or Youngest Child Mom (healthland.time.com)
Child survivors of the Holocaust filmed during the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp by the Red Army, January, 1945.
More iconic images of the holocaust are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. More textual information on the holocaust is here. More iconic images of human rights violations in general are here.
- UK should not put trade with Sudan ahead of human rights | Tom Porteous (guardian.co.uk)
- South Sudan LRA rebel raids rise (bbc.co.uk)
- donate to Oxfam, Unicef and/or Medicins Sans Frontieres
The image of firefighter Chris Fields holding the dying infant Baylee Almon won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1996. Two people, Lester LaRue and Charles Porter, standing just three feet apart, took almost the same image yet it was Charles Porter’s image that won the Pulitzer.
(source, source, source, photos by Perry Ryan, author of The Last Public Execution in America)
Rainey Bethea’s public execution on Aug. 15, 1936, in Owensboro, Kentucky. The era of public executions in the United States sputtered to a halt after 20,000 turned out for the hanging of Bethea, a black man convicted of raping and killing a elderly white woman. It was also the first first hanging supervised by a woman.
Because the original warrant specified that the hanging would take place in the courthouse yard, where the county, at significant expense, had recently planted new shrubs and flowers, a second death warrant moved the location of the hanging from the courthouse yard to an empty lot near the county garage. The executioner was drunk.
Timothy McVeigh requested in 2001 that his execution be televised, but this was denied. An internet company also sued for the rights to broadcast it.
In June 1964, a woman was found dead from an illegal abortion on a Norwich, Connecticut motel room floor. She was identified by her sister as Gerri Santoro, a mother of two facing her third pregnancy. Santoro and her two daughters had been victims of an abusive husband/father. Santoro was just 28 years old, and was 6.5 months pregnant with her secret lover’s baby. He took her to the motel, and fled when the self-induced abortion went wrong, abandoning dying Santoro behind. (He was arrested but served only a year for manslaughter). (source)
I’ve hidden the image so as not to shock people who visit this site for the first time and don’t know what to expect. Read more about the Gaza War of the Winter of 2008/2009 here. This image reminds me of the Bhopal girl, although the circumstances are quite different. Some say that posting such images, even in a hidden manner, is needlessly shocking, a form of disaster pornography, and that my entire blog series is misguided. Generally I disagree and I think evil should be shown and not hidden away for the moral tranquility of people who have a comfortable life far away from war and suffering. (Read also the content warning for this blog). However, in this case there may be some truth to the allegation. Hamas is known to use such images for propaganda purposes, and even to use corpses as photo opportunities.
Hamas (and the Aksa Brigades, and Islamic Jihad, the whole bunch) prevents the burial, or even preparation of the bodies for burial, until the bodies are used as props in the Palestinian Passion Play. Once, in Khan Younis, I actually saw gunmen unwrap a shrouded body, carry it a hundred yards and position it atop a pile of rubble — and then wait a half-hour until photographers showed. It was one of the more horrible things I’ve seen in my life. And it’s typical of Hamas. (source)
During the Red Summer of 1919, mobs of whites attacked African Americans in more than two dozen American cities, though in some cases blacks responded and initiated violent attacks themselves, often because police refused to intervene. The riots started after vicious rumors about Bolshevism and about blacks arming themselves and planning attacks on whites. Because of labor shortages during WWI, an estimated 500,000 African Americans emigrated from the South to the industrial cities of the North and Midwest. They filled new positions as well as many jobs formerly held by whites. In some cities, they were hired as strikebreakers, especially during strikes of 1917. This increased resentment and suspicion among whites, especially the working class.
Dozens of blacks were lynched during these race riots. The material damage was enormous. In Omaha, Nebraska a white mob of more than 10,000 burned the county courthouse and destroyed property valued at more than a million dollars. One man, Will Brown, was lynched.
The Omaha riot was triggered by reports in local media that sensationalized the alleged rape of 19-year-old Agnes Loebeck on September 25, 1919. The following day the police arrested 40-year-old Will Brown as a suspect. Loebeck identified Brown as her rapist, although later reports by the Omaha Police Department and the United States Army stated that she had not made a positive identification. There was an unsuccessful attempt to lynch Brown on the day of his arrest. The Omaha Bee publicized the incident as one of a series of alleged attacks on white women by black men.
At about 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 28, 1919, a large group of white youths gathered near the Bancroft School in South Omaha and began a march to the Douglas County Courthouse, where Brown was being held. By 5:00 p.m., a mob of about 4,000 whites had crowded into the street and ultimately stormed the courthouse. The police did what they could but were unable to stop the capture of Brown. His lifeless body was hung from a telephone post. Hundreds of revolvers and shotguns were fired at the corpse as it dangled in mid-air. Then, the rope was cut. Brown’s body was tied to the rear end of an automobile. It was dragged through the streets to Seventeenth and Dodge Streets, four blocks away. The oil from red lanterns used as danger signals for street repairs was poured on the corpse. It was burned. Members of the mob hauled the charred remains through the business district for several hours.
Tell me again that hate speech is just speech and should receive absolute protection…
(photo by Kevin Carter, a South African photographer who committed suicide in 1994, only a year after taking this Pulitzer Prize-winning photo)
Seeking relief from the sight of masses of people starving to death, he wandered into the open bush. He heard a soft, high-pitched whimpering and saw a tiny girl trying to make her way to the feeding center. As he crouched to photograph her, a vulture landed in view. Careful not to disturb the bird, he positioned himself for the best possible image. He would later say he waited about 20 minutes, hoping the vulture would spread its wings. It did not, and after he took his photographs, he chased the bird away and watched as the little girl resumed her struggle. Afterward he sat under a tree, lit a cigarette, talked to God and cried. “He was depressed afterward. He kept saying he wanted to hug his daughter.”
The haunting image made Carter a global celebrity, but it also raised uncomfortable questions about whether he should have helped the girl rather than simply watching her die. To be sure, Carter had plenty of emotional and financial problems, and he drank and used drugs excessively. But’s it’s not hard to imagine that his world-famous photo left him wracked with guilt, contributing to his suicidal state of mind. In his rambling final note, he wrote, “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners.” (source)
There’s obviously a moral dilemma here, one which always occurs in disaster journalism: drop the camera and help (but what can you do?), or be a witness and mobilize the world (but will it listen?). What’s best? If you’re interested, we have a blog series going on about moral dilemmas. More on journalism here.
Why is this an iconic image of human rights violations? Isn’t famine just a natural disaster for which no one is responsible, like an earthquake? I explained here why this is not the case, why famines happen because of what people do or fail to do.
UPDATE: a reader, Anthony Ratay, writes:
I wanted to let you know that there is some conflicting information out about the fate of the small Sudanese girl in the photograph. Featured in the documentary “Under Fire” Paul Watson claims that this girl was eventually given medical attention and prevented from an untimely demise. In fact if you look at the photo in its original frame you can see humanitarian workers in the background.
Of course, wearing a t-shirt, and even throwing wine at someone isn’t a violation of human rights, but it is indicative of the treatment of some Palestinians by some Israelis. Obviously, I don’t want to imply that there isn’t disgusting behavior on the other side, or that Israel is exclusively responsible for all or even most violations of human rights in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Far from it. Just as a blog post about Guantanamo doesn’t imply neglect of the evils of terrorism. A balanced and objective overview of human rights violations in the conflict in the Middle East is here.
Other iconic images of human rights violations are here.
I don’t know whether this is the same girl or not:
Lewis Wickes Hine (September 26, 1874 – November 3, 1940) was an American sociologist and photographer. Hine used his camera as a tool for social reform. His photographs were instrumental in changing the child labor laws in the United States. Here’s another one:
The two U.S. athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Carlos wore a necklace of beads which he described “were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage.” As they left the podium they were booed by the crowd. Time magazine wrote
“Faster, Higher, Stronger” is the motto of the Olympic Games. “Angrier, nastier, uglier” better describes the scene in Mexico City last week. (source)
Carlos and Smith were stripped of their medals, ejected from the Olympic Village, and returned to an unfriendly welcome in the U.S.
In the summer of 1941, during their invasion of the Soviet Union, German troops captured the town of Vinnitsa in Ukraine and massacred 28.000 Jews, meaning the entire Jewish population.
Guillermo “Billy” Ford, who later was to serve as Vice-President of Panama, is seen here in 1989, being attacked by thugs employed by Manuel Noriega, dictator of Panama at the time. The attack took place a few days after Ford and his presidential running-mate, Guillermo Endara, had defeated Noriega’s party in the elections.
See the whole series on iconic images of human rights violations.
Here’s a video of the event (not very clear I’m afraid):
And this is Emily:
During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Jews imprisoned there by the Germans occupying Poland during World War II, attempted unsuccessfully to oppose the Nazis’ effort to transport the remaining ghetto population to Treblinka extermination camp. The poorly armed resistance was crushed by the German troops. It was the largest single revolt by the Jews during the Holocaust. Approximately 13,000 Jews were killed in the ghetto during the uprising. Of the remaining 50,000 residents, most were captured and shipped to Treblinka. The film The Pianist by Roman Polanski offers a classic depiction of the events. The identity of the boy in the image is unknown.
Margaret Bourke-White – who also took this famous photo of Gandhi – was with General Patton’s Third Army when they reached Buchenwald on the outskirts of Weimar. Patton, outraged by what he saw, ordered his police to get a thousand civilians to make them see with their own eyes what their leaders had done.
Bourke-White said, “I saw and photographed the piles of naked, lifeless bodies, the human skeletons in furnaces, the living skeletons who would die the next day… and tattoed skin for lampshades. Using the camera was almost a relief. It interposed a slight barrier between myself and the horror in front of me”.
LIFE magazine decided to publish these photos in their May 7, 1945 issue many photographs of these atrocities, saying, “Dead men will have indeed died in vain if live men refuse to look at them”. (source)
Read the full story here. And here is the shocking video of her death (viewer discretion required!):
Rosa Parks’ refusal to obey bus driver James Blake’s order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger, and her subsequent arrest, is one of the most famous events in the history of the American civil rights movement. Read the whole story here.
More iconic images of human rights violations are here. Something about freedom of speech is here. And here is a case of quasi book burning. And here’s a nice cartoon to remind us that this isn’t something that only happened in a certain country at a certain time:
(if you don’t recognize the figure on the left, it’s Nikita Khrushchev holding a paper about the Pasternak controversy, one of many instances of book banning in the USSR; of course, book banning isn’t quite the same as book burning, but in a sense it’s even worse)
(source, this picture was taken in 1946 in India by Margaret Bourke-White who was sent there to cover a story about India’s independence)
Gandhi‘s struggle for India’s independence has become iconic for the worldwide struggle against colonialism, one of the most shocking human rights violations in history.
(source, rear view of former slave revealing scars on his back from savage whipping, in a photo taken after he escaped to become a Union soldier during the Civil War)
When selecting iconic images for this series, I always feel some kind of unease. On the one hand, an iconic image of human rights violations is something very powerful. It can symbolize a certain human catastrophe, and ingrain it in the human mind. It keeps alive the memory of the event, and educates people about human rights, more than history or story-telling can ever do.
On the other hand, there’s always the risk of disaster pronography, but there’s also something more important. Because of its focus on one particular victim (or set of victims) and one particular catastrophe, an iconic image obscures all other victims and catastrophes, at least those not fortunate enough to be captured by a similarly iconic image. Hence, like there is an Unknown Soldier (or the many graves marked “known only unto God” because the remains could not be identified), there should be some recognition of the unknown victim of human rights violations. I couldn’t come up with anything better than this (yes, it’s black, no computer glitch):
A non-cropped version:
Update July 10th 2012: It seems that losing the reigns of government hasn’t changed the Taliban’s habits. Here’s a recent execution just outside of Kabul, of a woman accused of adultery:
Picture by Don McCullin of young victims of the Biafra famine in the 1960s. More on the causes of famines here, here, and here. More pictures of famines are here, here, here, here, here, here and here. A warning about “disaster pornography” is here. Other posts in this “iconic images” series are here.
… his early dreams faded away to be replaced by unscrupulous cupidity, and step by step he was led downwards until he, the man of holy aspirations in 1885, stands now in 1909 with such a cloud of terrible direct personal responsibility resting upon him as no man in modern European history has had to bear. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, commenting on King Léopold II‘s crimes against humanity.
Two slightly different images of the same heart-breaking scene, almost 25 years ago:
Read the story here. This is obviously a case of misconduct by a private company leading to massive human rights violations, denying the widespread belief that rights violations are exclusively a government’s business. Read more here, here and here about corporate social responsibility.