Leonard Freed: Black in White America
November 15, 2014–June 21, 2015
Harlem, New York, 1963
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Brigitte Freed
While traveling in Germany in 1962, freelance photojournalist Leonard Freed encountered a black American soldier guarding the divide between East and West Germany. This scene of a man defending a country where his own rights were in question resonated with Freed and provoked him, upon his return to New York in 1963, to embark on a multiyear documentary project titled Black in White America.
This exhibition features thirty-eight black-and-white photographs from this landmark photo essay. Presented alongside Gordon Parks’s work, the exhibition offers visitors a window into African American life in the United States during the civil rights era. Like Parks, Freed sought to capture the personal experiences of African Americans across the nation amidst the fight for racial equality.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, to a working-class Jewish family, Freed began photographing African American families in neighborhoods throughout New York City. Recording both key events and everyday occurrences, he immersed himself in the community by attending religious gatherings, protests, and other urban engagements. He later traveled throughout the South, photographing jails and jazz funerals and chronicling the experience of segregation.
Freed published the series in 1967-1968 alongside text drawn from notes he took during his travels. It resulted in a powerful book that was both innovative and influential in the development of self-directed documentary projects. Freed detailed, through word and image, his conversations and interactions with the people he encountered. Rather than serving as straightforward reporting of newsworthy events, Freed’s publication instead offered a nuanced narration of African American life amidst one of the most intense social struggles of our times.