Press Release  August 20, 2020

Picture the Dream: The Civil Rights Movement through Children’s Books

© 2019 Jerry Pinkney

Jerry Pinkney, Illustration for A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein (HolidayHouse, 2019). Collection of the artist.

ATLANTA  — This summer, the High Museum of Art will premiere Picture the Dream: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement through Children’s Books (August 15–November 8, 2020), an exhibition organized in collaboration with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. 

The exhibition is the first of its kind to delve into the events, people and themes of the civil rights movement, both celebrated and forgotten, through one of the most compelling forms of visual expression, the children’s picture book. The more than 80 artworks on view, ranging from paintings and prints to collages and drawings, will evoke the power and continuing relevance of the era that shaped American history and continues to reverberate today.

The year 2020 marks the anniversary of several key events from the civil rights movement. Sixty-five years ago, in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Five years later, Ruby Bridges integrated her New Orleans elementary school, and four Black students catalyzed the sit-in movement at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

These actions and more are explored in the exhibition with titles by beloved children’s book authors and artists as well as talented newcomers.

© 2000 Leonard Jenkins. Digital image by Mike Jensen/courtesy High Museum of Art

Leonard Jenkins, Illustration from Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly by Walter Dean Myers (HarperCollins, 2000). Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts, gift of SmithKramer, Inc.

Picture the Dream will emphasize children’s roles as activists and tell important stories about the movement’s icons, including Parks, Bridges, Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

“One of the guiding aspects of our mission is a commitment to family audiences. Through our children’s book exhibitions, we aim to help adult visitors open meaningful dialogues with the children in their lives and create memories that will last a lifetime,” said Rand Suffolk, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director of the High. “This exhibition will spark important conversations across generations about a crucial period in our nation’s history that connects directly to our city, a birthplace of the civil rights movement.”

The exhibition will be organized into three thematic sections that explore the forces that sparked the civil rights movement, its key players and events, and stories about the reemergence of activism in contemporary America. From Brown v. Board of Education and the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the March on Washington and Black Lives Matter, the picture books’ topics bridge the past and present, emphasizing how historical moments and leaders continue to inspire the struggle for equal rights.

“Great picture books prompt great conversations,” said Alexandra Kennedy, executive director at The Eric Carle Museum. “What better way for parents and teachers to introduce the difficult history of civil rights than through stories about the people who fought for equality? We believe the powerful illustrations in Picture the Dream will inspire visitors of all ages to ask hard questions and look anew at issues of equality and justice.”

Books featured in the exhibition will include the following: 

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney 
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman 
A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney 
If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold 
My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King III, illustrated by A.G. Ford 
Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton, illustrated by Raul Colón 
I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson

© 1995 George Ford

George Ford (American, born 1926), "Ruby said the prayer she repeated twice a day," from The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles (Scholastic, 1995). Watercolor, acrylic ink, and ink on Strathmore illustration board, collection of the artist.

Picture the Dream marks the High’s fifth collaboration with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, where the exhibition will be on view from February 7 through May 30, 2021. The exhibition is guest curated by New York Times–bestselling and Coretta Scott King Book Award-winning children’s book author Andrea Davis Pinkney. A publisher and editor at Scholastic Inc. in New York, Pinkney has written numerous celebrated fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults. Her latest title, Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, will be published by Little, Brown Young Readers on Sept. 29, 2020. 

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Alliance Theatre at The Woodruff Arts Center, of which the High is also an arts partner, will present the world-premiere play Sit-In inspired by Andrea Pinkney’s book Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down. The publication is one of Pinkney’s many collaborations with her husband, artist Brian Pinkney. Brian is the award-winning illustrator of several beloved picture books and the son of Jerry Pinkney, who was the subject of the High’s first ever children’s picture book show in 2013. The Alliance’s production, inspired by the book, is written by Atlanta-based playwright, poet, novelist and activist Pearl Cleage and explores the role young people can play in addressing the injustices of their time. A multi-media version of the production will be presented virtually beginning in October, 2020.  

“Working with the creative teams on this exhibition and theatrical production has underscored the power picture books have in reaching readers of all ages,” said Andrea Pinkney. “Through an immersive tapestry of images and ideas, the artwork in ‘Picture the Dream’ and the depictions in the Sit-In play take viewers by the hand, guiding them through times of bravery and triumph. It’s an honor to collaborate in this page-to-stage experience that delivers a front-row seat to the dramatic events that continue to shape our world.” 

The exhibition and play are made possible through a grant to the High from the Rich Foundation and through a grant to The Woodruff Arts Center from the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation to expand programming and increase access for family audiences.

Picture the Dream will be presented in the special exhibition gallery on the second level of the High’s Stent Family Wing.

Subscribe to our free e-letter!


Latest News

Reconstructing The Ancient World Through Video Games and 3D Technology

Envisioning the ancient world as it truly was has always been

D’Lan Contemporary: Experiencing Aboriginal Art in New York

Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri (b.1926-d.1998), Bill Whiskey…

Ahead of Her Time: Gretchen Bender’s Take On Media Critique

Whether the outsourcing of an analog lifestyle came swiftly…

10 Must-Sees At Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Skillfully designed by world-renowned

Hugh Steers’ Paintings Captured Bleakness and Hope

Conjuring Tenderness: Paintings from 1987, an…