Image Rights: Black Representation Politics and Civil Rights Work in the Postwar United States


ACLS Fellowship Program




“Image Rights” locates the representation politics and products African Americans deployed to secure their rights after World War II within a culture characterized by expanding consumerism and visual media. Analyzing pop culture texts, government propaganda, personal papers, organizational records, and oral interviews with key participants, this work argues that black activists' and entrepreneurs' interests intersected in the project of re-presenting blackness in manners that altered civil rights politics. Producing images that claimed to define black America, African American cultural producers, capitalists, and activists not only advanced civil rights agendas, but also profoundly shaped theories and practices central to the market segmentation characterizing postwar American capitalism and politics. This project, then, breaks down narrative boundaries isolating "the struggle" from market dynamics, prompts reconsideration of what constitutes civil rights work, and illuminates why the civil rights movement took the form it did, both on the ground and in historical memory.