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Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum

Change and Resistance: Civil Rights Movements Across the Nation #1053


Date: August 28, 1963
Location: Washington, D.C.
Photographer: Danny Lyon
Source: Magnum Photos


Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sing freedom songs during the March on Washington.


Photos downloaded from the Essential Lens site are cleared for educational use only.


The main subject of this photograph is the people in the foreground. The background appears to be sky.




The actions and intense expressions of the two young men suggest they are reacting to something unseen outside of the composition. Their individual reactions can be contrasted with that of the woman who stands behind them.



The photographer is very close in proximity to the young men, but they are so focused that they do not notice him.




The two men seem to be wearing similar jackets with white stitching. According to the caption, it appears that the group gathered are members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Build on your Observations

The vertical orientation of the photograph and cropped composition isolates these figures and captures their emotion.





The tight composition enhances the impact of the gestures of the men, which introduce movement into the tight space. The young man on the left claps and creates movement that moves toward his own body as he closes his eyes; the young man on the right makes the opposite movement, raising his hand, as if to try to move beyond his body.



The lowered vantage point frames the boy’s hand against the sky, while the close proximity allows the image to give equal attention to the intense emotion of the boy in the foreground.

Make Inferences

The year the photograph was made and the location indicates the photograph portrays a historic gathering. In fact, these young men are just two of the 250,000 people who participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 in Washington, D.C. At this historic event, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.


The emotions of these young men tell us something of the passion young people had for supporting the cause of civil rights, and of their dedication to be active participants in it, despite their youth.

Formulate Further Questions

What was the impact of the March on Washington?

What were the opinions on the March on Washington among African Americans? Was the event universally supported?

What other contributions did young people make to the civil rights movement?

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Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum


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  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-905-6