Photographer Herbert Eugene Randall took some of the most memorable photographs of the Mississippi civil rights movement. Randall was born on 16 December 1936 to Jane Hunter Randall and Herbert Randall Sr. in the Bronx, New York. After two years at New York City Community College and a brief stint at Hunter College, he left school to pursue a career in photography.
Although Randall studied under renowned photographer Harold Feinstein in the 1950s, his photographic talents were largely self-taught, and he earned a living as a freelance photographer in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1962–63 Randall and other African American photographers founded Kamoinge (a Kikuyu word meaning “a group of people working together”), which sought to dispel negative stereotypes by capturing the beauty and strength of New York’s black community in the early 1960s.
In April 1964 Randall received the John Hay Whitney Fellowship, which provided funding to pursue a yearlong photography project. Randall felt drawn to the growing civil rights movement in the South, and Julie Prettyman, a good friend and head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) office in Manhattan, suggested that he go to Mississippi to photograph the Freedom Summer campaign.
During Freedom Summer, Randall joined hundreds of other journalists and photographers—among them Claude Sitton, Karl Fleming, Charles Moore, and Danny Lyon—who risked their lives every day to document the African American struggle for freedom in Mississippi. According to Randall, the greatest challenge faced by Freedom Summer photographers was the constant threat of violence by the state’s white segregationists, who had a great deal of contempt for outside media outlets. During Freedom Summer, Randall was stationed in Hattiesburg and nearby Palmer’s Crossing. He spent his days following SNCC staff members and summer volunteers as they attempted to register voters and teach in freedom schools. Among the most famous images that Randall captured was the beating of his close friend Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld and of freedom school students and teachers. Randall published hundreds of his Freedom Summer photographs in Faces of Freedom Summer (2001). Randall has since donated hundreds of his Freedom Summer photographs to the University of Southern Mississippi’s McCain Library and Archives, and many are available through the Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive.
Randall spent the rest of his professional life working with Kamoinge and as a photographer, teacher, and photographic consultant. His images have been displayed at museums throughout the United States. Now retired, Randall resides on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation on Long Island, New York.
- Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive website, http://digilib.usm.edu/crmda.php
- Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (1995)
- Herbert Randall and Bob Tusa, Faces of Freedom Summer (2001)