Police probe death of Bob Adelman, civil rights photographer

Julie Wiener

(JTA) — Bob Adelman, a photographer best known for documenting the civil rights movement, has died at age 85 under mysterious circumstances.

Adelman, who was Jewish, was found dead with a head would at his home in Miami Beach on Saturday afternoon, according to the Miami Herald. His death is being investigated by police, The Associated Press reported.

In the 1960s, Adelman worked as a volunteer photographer for several civil rights groups, including the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He frequently photographed Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Now they seem like momentous events. At the time, they were covered in the back pages of newspapers, for the most part,” Adelman told AP in 2014. “The only time blacks appeared in newspapers at that time was when there was violence.”


His most famous photographs, according to AP, were of King and his wife marching in Selma, Alabama; a group of young African-American people facing a blast of water from a fire hose in Birmingham, Alabama; and King delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.

Several of his photos are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, according to Adelman’s website.

Adelman’s lawyer, Ryan Tables, told the Miami Herald that Adelman was “your typical New York Jew. He had a wit, was smart, was part of a movement and he had an aura about him.”

Karen Marks, director of New York’s Howard Greenberg Gallery, which represented Adelman, told AP that Adelman “was one of those guys who wasn’t afraid to get in close to the action, and he continued that for most of his life. He was not afraid to say or do anything.”

Born in 193o or ’31, Adelman grew up in a Jewish family in Queens, New York. According to his website, Adelman earned his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University, a law degree from Harvard and a master’s in philosophy from Columbia.

The 2012 book “This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement,” quotes Adelman as saying: “Because I was Jewish, I had my own problems with discrimination, so I identified with black discrimination. My college thesis was on slave-breeding farms in the upper South.”

He considered himself culturally Jewish, and his work against discrimination was driven in part by the Jewish experience with the Holocaust.

“I was brought up Jewish, so I knew something about discrimination,” he told Collector’s Weekly in 2014. “As [African-American author James] Baldwin said, ‘If they take you in the morning, they’ll be coming for us at night.’”

Adelman also covered President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, public health issues and major pop artists, including Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

In 2015, the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale devoted an exhibit to his civil rights photos, with a 160-photograph show called “The Movement: Bob Adelman and Civil Rights Era Photography.”

Adelman published more than 12 books of photography.

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