$10 million photography gift ‘energizes’ conversation around civil rights

The gift contains photos such as this one, taken by Danny Lyon, which features Sheriff Jim Clark arresting two SNCC voter registration workers on the steps of a federal building in Selma, Alabama in 1963. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College Art Galleries)

By Shirley Liu, Arts & Culture Editor

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the newest photography collection to arrive at the Lafayette College Art Galleries has a lot to say.

Bennett J. Goodman ’79 recently gifted a large collection of vintage photos capturing important moments in civil rights history to the college. Containing over 3,000 photographs, the collection is estimated to be worth about $10 million.

The collection features a number of famous names in photojournalism, including Cornell Capa, whose photos document the conditions of the Attica Correctional Facility in the 1970s; Fred Jewell, who photographed moments from the 1973 Wounded Knee Occupation; Joe Barrera, Jr., whose photos capture the Chicano movement and Jack Delano, a photographer for the Farm Security Administration.

According to Director of Galleries and Curator of Collections Rico Reyes, Goodman gifted this collection to Lafayette to continue the legacy of the Kirby family and the establishment of the Kirby Hall of Civil Rights.

“The gift itself is a generous act that sort of continues the legacy of what Kirby started with the Hall of Civil Rights and all those civil rights works of art,” Reyes said. “The gift itself is an homage to that ideal of civil rights and the notion of civil rights here at Lafayette.”

However, the gift intends to do more than just honor the legacy of civil rights movements from the past. Reyes also hoped that the collection will invigorate conversations surrounding the current state of civil rights, as well as what it will look like in the future.

“I think that our notion of civil rights contemporaneously was founded and set in the sixties. So going back and looking through these photographs, and looking through the civil rights era of the sixties, really energizes the conversation today,” Reyes said. “Because now we have a tangible historical document that we can look at and visit and study that informs how we think about civil rights now, and maybe think about how civil rights should be going into the future.”

Lafayette plans to use photos from the collection to create exhibits for Lehigh Valley’s celebration of America250 in 2026, which will mark the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States. For the celebration, Lafayette will partner with organizations such as the Lafayette Historical Society and the Sigal Museum, as well as humanities scholars throughout the Lehigh Valley.

In the near future, the Williams Center will host a show called “Focus IV,” a preliminary exhibition of selections from the gift. Reyes is in conversation with the Kirby Hall library to display the photos in the library itself, rather than just in the gallery. He is also working on an exhibit featuring photos from the collection that will debut at the end of the spring semester.

Reyes hopes the photo collection will inspire students to take more intentional photos of the events and movements taking place around them.

“If more people are inspired to actually just document what’s going on around them, then I think we’ll have a much richer record of what actually happened, and have a better understanding of this moment right now. For me, as an art teacher, I really want to emphasize that you have a camera with you all the time, so be more intentional about how you use it,” Reyes said.

Students interested in viewing select photos from the collection in person are welcome to make an appointment with Reyes by sending him an email at [email protected].