Michigan State University


Purple circle with text Project 60 50, 2014, 1964, 1954; Michigan State University

Online Exhibit: Voices from the Global Conversation on Human Rights and Civil Rights


Part of MSU's year-long Project 60/50 celebration

Onsite exhibit: Special Collections Reading Room, Main Library



The Photography window in the Bearing Witness exhibit in Special Collections.The onsite and online versions of this exhibit explore ways that people all over the world have taken part in a global conversation on human rights and civil rights: whether seeking to exercise their own rights, or advocating for the rights of others.  Songs, graphic art, journalism, economic action, and photography are a few of the ways people have raised their voices. 

The choice of materials in the exhibit reflects our collection strengths as well as the breadth of the topic. Several areas are especially well represented: the anti-apartheid movement, in South Africa and abroad; the U.S. civil rights movement; and the U.S. labor movement, including both farm workers and factory workers.

However, the entire landscape of human rights and civil rights is much broader. Within the exhibit you’ll also find documents and publications representing LGBTQ people, the disability rights movement, Native American and indigenous communities, immigration advocacy, feminism and the women’s suffrage movement, and more.

The conversation also includes those who see human rights issues as conflicting with other values, such as economic progress or traditional social structures. And, there are those who believe that rights should be reserved to certain groups defined by race, religion, or some other element of identity. These perspectives are also represented in the exhibit.

From disability rights, to the labor movement, to efforts by MSU students to gain a larger voice in the administration of the University – so many events, issues, and controversies are, at their heart, a question of our individual rights and our responsibilities to the rest of the human race.

Items marked with an asterisk (*) will require an MSUnet ID to connect.

If you're intrigued by this online exhibit, visit the onsite exhibit too! Most of the onsite material is not available online.


Share your perspective in an MSU student anthology!

MSU students are invited to submit writing for an anthology on civil rights and human rights, to be published by the MSU Libraries in August 2014. The book will be printed on the library's Espresso Book Machine and will be available for purchase on Amazon.com, and at Project 60/50 events in Fall 2014.  Essays, memoirs, creative writing, and journalism are all welcome.

Writing submitted to the Libraries' 60/50 anthology should be inspired by, or take as a starting point for discussion, one or more items from the Bearing Witness exhibit -- either this supplementary online exhibit, or the onsite exhibit in the Special Collections Reading Room.  Writing for the anthology must be connected in some way to an item in either the onsite or online exhibit. See the anthology site for full information.

Questions are welcome! Contact Ruth Ann Jones at the MSU Libraries.


United Nations logo1: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. The countries of Europe, Asia, and North America were still recovering from the turmoil of World War II and the Holocaust (1939-1945), while independence movements were gaining strength on the African continent. In 1995, Pope John Paul II called the Declaration  "one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time."

► Read the full Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

► The United Nations has also adopted a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and a Declaration of the Rights of the Child

► Journalism students worldwide contributed to Education: A Right or a Privilege? Student Journalists Report on the Right to Education Worldwide, published by UNESCO.


Cover art for the record album "The Little Red Box of Protest Songs." 2: Songs and Music

Songs are a powerful expression of emotion and determination – and encouragement for the weary. 

► Listen to two famous songs of the civil rights and labor movements* featured in the onsite exhibit: Go Down, Moses and Solidarity Forever.

► Find more in our streaming music collections: American and African American Song* and Smithsonian Global Sound*. (Useful search terms: protest songs, political folk songs, freedom songs, social songs.)

► Explore a short volume of anti-slavery hymns* first published in the 1840s.

► Watch a short video biography of the African American singer Marian Anderson*. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her book their hall for a recital. Instead, Anderson gave a open-air concert at the Lincoln Memorial for an audience of more than 75,000 people. 


 cover of Black Panther, the Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, and a blue Free South Africa poster.3: Graphic Art

Graphic artists have made substantial contributions to human rights and civil rights campaigns by creating eye-catching, powerfully symbolic images to convey the message of the movement.

► Emory Douglas was a graphic artist, activist, and Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party from 1967 to the 1980s. Visit an online exhibit of his work presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

► The book 4973 Berkeley Protest Posters 1970 reproduces posters displayed in the streets of Berkeley, California from 1968 to 1973, now held at the University of British Columbia. View the collection online.

► The African Activist Archive, hosted by the African Studies Center at MSU, includes digital copies of anti-apartheid posters contributed by many libraries and archives around the world. Here's a selection of the posters on divestment and boycotts:

Indian Country Today did a round-up of Columbus Day: Images of Protest in 2012.

Colorlines.com introduces four visual artists' contributions to the immigration debate.


4: Speeches and DemonstrationsPhoto of a "Free Tibet" demonstration in Toronto, courtesy of user "Metrix X" on Flickr.com.

Public demonstrations – marches, sit-ins, rallies, and picket lines – are often the most visible way for a group to attract attention and share its message.

► The "Orange Horse Affair" may sound like the title of a mystery novel, but it was actually an MSU student protest against the dismissal of three professors in the Department of American Thought and Language in 1966. 

► The Lansing City Pulse profiled three Michigan nuns working for nuclear disarmament.

► Radio station WGBH Boston covered the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Listen to the entire historic I Have a Dream speech by Dr. Martin Luther King.


5: Conservative Perspectives

A pinback button in red, white, and blue with the motto "Proud Conservative."In this section, explore conservative viewpoints on issues of human rights and civil rights.

►  Chase Madar discusses the work of Mary Ann Glendon, who believes the concepts of rights should not dominate our political discourse, in the American Conservative.

► Linda Chavez says the Supreme Court should Act Now to End Racial Preferences, in her column in the Conservative Chronicle.

► Mark Hemingway asks whether the First Amendment covers wedding photographers in The 'Human Rights' Juggernaut in the Weekly Standard.

► Rich Lowry critiques The New Civil Rights Movement in the National Review Online.

► For a look at other conservative positions, explore Landmark Speeches of the American Conservative Movement*, published by Texas A&M University Press.


6. The Radical RightDetail from a drawing of a Ku Klux Klan member in a hooded robe.

Perspectives on human rights and civil rights issues extend across a spectrum of opinion. At an extreme end are organizations which assert the superiority of the white race and would deny equal rights or equal treatment under the law to people of other races.

► The Special Collections Division at MSU has digitized a number of Ku Klux Klan publications. Selected titles:


7. Economic ActionImage of a Boycott Lettuce button from the MSU Libraries collections.

Economic action has been successfully used as a non-violent method of promoting social change. One famous example is the Montgomery bus boycott, touched off by the arrest of Rosa Parks, which became an inspiration for the entire U.S. civil rights movement. Another campaign, "divestment" (withdrawing investments) from South Africa was a key element of the worldwide anti-apartheid movement.

► Listen to autoworkers Calvin Sturdivant and Rudolfo Reyes describe working at Lansing's Fisher Body Plant and their participation in the 1970 strike against General Motors. Part of Lansing Auto Town, a collection of oral histories recorded at MSU's Vincent Voice Library.

► Civil rights campaigns have economic goals as well as using economic action to promote change. Explore A Guide to Women's Equal Pay Rights, prepared by the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor.


8. PoetryAfrican American poet Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) speaking at Operation Breadbasket in Chicago (estimated date 1962-1967).

Poetry and activism – in a way, it’s hard to imagine the two pursuits going hand in hand. But in fact, there is a long history of poetry being used to express social criticism or political goals.

► Michigan poet and human rights advocate Carolyn Forché presented Not Persuasion, But Transport: The Poetry of Witness at the Poets Forum in New York.

► View Emma Lazarus' handwritten manuscript* of "The New Colossus" – the poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty – from the online collection Jewish Life in America: 1654-1954*.

► Then, listen to Bernadette Mayer read her poem The Tragic Condition of the Statue of Liberty, with a discussion on the podcast Poem Talk.

► Read June Jordan's essay The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America: Something Like a Sonnet for Phillis Wheatley.


9. PhotographyPhoto of a civil rights picket line in Tallahassee, Florida, courtesy of the State Library and Archives of Florida, via Flickr.

Photography has been a powerful tool for activists to capture evidence of human rights and civil rights abuses, as well as documenting efforts to end those abuses. And of course, there is the well-known aphorism: a picture is worth a thousand words.

► Explore Faces of Freedom Summer*, a volume of photographs by Herbert Randall.

► The Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University has extensive labor history photo collections online, including a gallery on the United Farm Workers.

► Michelle Bogre's Photography as Activism: Images for Social Change* traces the history of activist photojournalism, with many examples of the work of both early and contemporary photographers.


10. The Michigan Experience"Occupy the Capitol" graphic from the Occupy Lansing movement.

The strands of the civil rights and human rights conversation run through Michigan, as well as the wider world. 

► Read about the first 40 years of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, which was established in 1964 by the state constitution which went into effect on January 1 of that year.

► Explore student rights through ACLU-Michigan's newsletter, Student Voice.

Equality Michigan reprinted the Michigan results of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

► The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe has an active revitalization program for its heritage language: "Anishinaabemowin is vital to the tribal sovereignty and the survival of our people." Indian Country Today reports on how Ojibwe Words Help Temper Racism.


Editor's ChoiceImage of a 1998 stamp from Moldova, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

These items don't quite fit the categories above, but they're too good to miss:

Ragged Edge Online offers a thought-provoking column by Lisa Blumberg on Torture and Disability Rights.

► The New York Times interviews young South Africans born after the anti-apartheid struggle. Are they apathetic and ungrateful, or is their "determination to look to the future and not the past" a saving grace for South Africa?

► Amanda Hess investigates The Next Civil Rights Issue: Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet in Pacific Standard magazine.


Would you like to suggest an item for this page? Contact the editor, Ruth Ann Jones.


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