Black Migrants is an exhibition of African-American farm worker photos I took in the 1960s installed at the Fresno Art Museum from July 13, 2018 to January 6, 2019. The Museum is at 233 N. First St. Fresno, California
While covering farm workers’ life, work, and union organizing in the 1960s I discovered a number of African-American settlements in California’s San Joaquin Valley. These towns are a little known part of history, the results of the rural-to-rural stream of the Great Migration out of the Jim Crow south.
Although I shot many scenes of dire poverty and backbreaking work, I was moved to show the dignity and humanity of these hard working migrants. I saw their loving families, their sense of community, their strong work ethic . . . and even the joy of turning an old rope and tree into a playground for the kids.
Fresno Art Museum Director Michelle Ellis Pracy curated the exhibition.
Joel Pickford made the extraordinary prints.
Mark Arax and Michael Eissinger provided valuable background information on the history of the African-American settlements.
California Humanities Community Stories Program, Fresno Art Museum and its donors, and West of West Center for Narrative History of the Central Valley have provided funding.
I never managed to find a way
for you and me to live at the ocean
that and a thousand other dreams
I never managed to realize.
So now I drive up Highway One
through foggy landscapes–
you always loved them the best–
gathering the images of lupin in seas of grass
cedars and cypresses, sheep and cows,
barns and tacky vacation homes
all soft in their gray splendor.
I stop and walk along the Sonoma shore
pausing for you at the edge.
The sun breaks through the winter fog
shining the waves breaking up around black rocks
shimmering the water’s backwash
into flashing electric pulses
rushing to me through the milky air.
I know you’d know that vision
like you seeing your own true self in a mirror
like me looking into your clear bright eyes.
I produced this sound montage in 1963 to follow an interview of Jessica Mitford on her book by the same title. She commented to Trevor Thomas on her devastating critique of the funeral industry in the US. I assembled the sound montage from ads in the industry press, military contractor ads in Scientific American, and music to highlight the commercialization of death.