Movements for Change: The Bob Fitch Photography Archive at Stanford Libraries

Movements for Change exhibit poster

Photographs of key moments in American civil rights history and farm worker organizing of the 1960s and 1970s by Watsonville, California photographer Bob Fitch are on exhibit in the Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda of Stanford's Green Library from September 30, 2014 through March 18, 2015. The exhibition, Movements for Change: The Bob Fitch Photography Archive at Stanford Libraries, marks the Libraries' acquisition of the Fitch archive of close to 275,000 images for use by students and scholars, and celebrates the people whose lives and work Fitch documented.

In 1965, Bob Fitch was an Anglo seminary student at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California when he read James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time as a class assignment. The experience moved him to pursue work as an activist rather than to minister from the pulpit. He purchased used professional camera equipment and began to photograph, working first with Glide Church in San Francisco and then as a volunteer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Atlanta from 1965 to 1968. In the South he worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others, documenting civil rights activities and serving as a wire service-“from camera click to stamp lick”- for the African American press, which could not risk sending their own correspondents into the field. Along the way, he deepened his commitment to social justice activism and his appreciation of the people who make up movements for change. 

He continued to photograph for the next fifty years, documenting the work of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, the Vietnam War draft resistance movement, and Ron Dellums's first congressional campaign, among many other social justice-related subjects. Most recently, Fitch photographed Luis Alejo's 2010 campaign for California State Assembly.

Iconic Fitch photographs from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s are displayed in Movements for Change: The Bob Fitch Photography Archive at Stanford Libraries. The exhibit offers a window into the work of a lifelong photographer who views himself as “an organizer who uses a camera to tell the story of the work.” Some of the images, such as that of Martin Luther King Jr. in his office (used as a basis for the King memorial in Washington, DC), of Coretta Scott King comforting daughter Bernice on her lap at her husband's funeral, and of Dorothy Day passively resisting armed police from a folding stool, will be familiar to many. Other lesser known images, of African American voter education and registration efforts, marchers and hecklers along the route of the Mississippi Meredith March, the King family in the days immediately following King's assassination, United Farm Workers organizing, the Vietnam War draft resistance movement may alternately surprise and move those who view them.