Selma, Alabama 1936 On A Black and White Photo by Walker Evans

Selma, Alabama 1936

On A Black and White Photo by Walker Evans[1]


the black and white

photo is really two

placed side by side

as if a single shot

of ten black men

arranged before storefronts

stark white sunlight on bricks

darkening the nameless faces


the men appear unafraid

dressed for Sunday

in suits and fedoras

though one seated man’s

face is masked by the

slanted brim of his hat

chair tipped back

feet dangling--

hanging above him

a suit with a white note or tag

pinned to the chest

we can’t read the price


we need a stronger lens

to see Jimmy Lee Jackson[2]

in 1965

unarmed and gut shot

by an Alabama State Trooper

to see the Edmund Pettus Bridge

bloodied on another Selma Sunday

protesters steeled by

Jimmy Lee’s murder

by King’s eulogy

marching to Montgomery

for voting rights

choked by a haze

of tear gas

bludgeoned  broken

by more troopers



We need a stronger lens to see

in sweet home Chicago

a white crowd singing

Oh I wish I were

an Alabama Trooper

that is what I’d really like to be

for if I were an Alabama Trooper

I could kill a nigger legally[3]


in 1936

on this day of rest

violence does not enter

the aperture of Evans’ camera

still the viewer feels it stirring

in shadows beyond the margins

of black and white joined


this artful moment


from a nation’s diseased past  from the

present so poisoned

we do not think to ask

how these black men all

dressed up in Selma lived


only, how did they die?

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