In the course of my research, I needed to organize hundreds and hundreds of news clippings, going from the 1830s to the present. I came up with a system where I could sort them by date and publisher, along with a few key words to remind me what they were. For example, on the day that President George H.W. Bush came to Wilson Magnet High School: “1989.05.19 DC Bush visit.”
One of my favorite clippings was the one I filed as “1970.02.05 TU protest against great photo.”
What a shot! Taken by legendary Gannett photographer Jim Laragy, it shows white anti-integration protesters marching to district headquarters to urge the board not to approve the desegregation plan that Superintendent Herman Goldberg had submitted a month earlier.
Obviously the woman in the foreground, lower left, draws your eye immediately. But notice as well the child on his father’s shoulders at the top of the frame, and the two surly women in headscarves in the second row. This photo recalls the kind of white vitriol that we often (and wrongly) associate solely with the South. The winter clothing, though, makes it an unmistakable Northern scene.
The Gannett photo archives are spotty at best; many remarkable photographs are lost forever. To my great delight, though, this one remained, and when Cornell University Press asked for my ideas about the cover it jumped immediately to mind.
Now look at the absolute masterful job the Cornell designers did with it.
That’s my book! Honestly, it gives me the shivers.
Besides being a wonderful photograph, I feel it ties in very well with the title. As I wrote in an earlier post, the James Baldwin phrase strikes me as somewhat disjointed and not a little menacing. I wanted the design to reflect that energy; the huge, bright red letters match it perfectly.
The photo and title speak to each other in another important way. In the Baldwin essay, the “you” in “your children are very greatly in danger” is addressed to white parents who indulge in “the moral apathy which pretends it isn’t happening.” This photo, though, says something different. Clearly it is the white parents who represent potential violence and, by implication, the Black children who are very greatly in danger. It inverts the meaning in such an interesting way. All that remains for certain: there’s danger here.
I’m turning in my proofread pages this week (definitely found some typos!). After that, it’s out of my hands and, in a few months, into yours.