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Civil Rights Snapshot

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Anyone who studies the civil rights movement in the United States will find it almost inseparable from the black church. Now, an artist in Nashville has found a way to dramatize that link with a collection of 25 photographs of the most important houses of worship of that time. Dennis Ferrier reports.  

 
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The sting of billy clubs, then sanctuary. On Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, the refuge came at a black church, Brown’s Chapel A.M.E. in Selma.

Carlton Wilkinson, artist: "Civil rights and the black church is just synonymous. But the thing is, is that it was a place where black people could control what took place there."

Carlton Wilkinson’s photos feature Dr. Martin Luther King’s home church, Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist, and Dexter Avenue Baptist in Montgomery, where he led the bus boycotts.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Because I've been to the mountain top ...”

The Mason Temple in Memphis, where King gave his last sermon, and the final church home of civil rights leader Medgar Evers are also part of the collection.

Medgar Evers: "We'll be demonstrating here until freedom comes.”

Carlton Wilkinson: “A lot of these buildings are being torn down; the pastors have passed or moved on. It’s important that I capture as much authentic places as possible.”

Places like Asbury United Methodist in Canton, Miss., which welcomed students during the freedom summer of ‘64.

Nat Sound: "Sunday morning, Sept. 15 ..."

Or 16th Street Baptist in Birmingham, where a bomb killed four girls. The photo is not of the bombed area, but the front steps, worn by the feet of thousands who fought for civil rights.

Carlton Wilkinson: "I wanted to celebrate the glorious moment of this church. It was a pillar of strength for that movement."

Wilkinson’s project remains unfinished. Just like the struggle for equality.

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Carlton hopes to gather more photos for his collection. It’s actually become an irreplaceable reflection of history as more and more of the churches are no longer standing.