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Injustice in Focus

The Civil Rights Photography of Cecil Williams

Claudia Smith Brinson



Published: Jan 9 2024


Published: Jan 9 2024

OA Ebook
Published: Jan 9 2024


The inclusion of this book in the Open Carolina collection is made possible by the generous funding of

The powerful life story and photography of an esteemed Black photojournalist

Cecil Williams is one of the few Southern Black photojournalists of the civil rights movement. Born and raised in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Williams worked at the center of emerging twentieth-century civil rights activism in the state, and his assignments often exposed him to violence perpetrated by White law officials and ordinary citizens. Williams's story is the story of the civil rights era.

Author and award-winning journalist Claudia Smith Brinson and photographer Williams combine forces in Injustice in Focus: The Civil Rights Photography of Cecil Williams. Together they document civil rights activism in the 1940s through the 1960s in South Carolina. Williams was there, in South Carolina, to witness and document pivotal movements such as then-NAACP legal counsel Thurgood Marshall's arrival in Charleston to argue the landmark case Briggs v. Elliott and the aftermath of the infamous Orangeburg Massacre.

With author Brinson's rich research, interviews, and prose, and eighty stunning photographs from Williams's collection, Injustice in Focus offers a firsthand account of South Carolina's fight for civil rights and describes Williams's life behind the camera as a documentarian of the civil rights movement

Author Claudia Smith Brinson is an award-winning journalist with more than thirty years of experience at newspapers in Greece, Florida, and South Carolina. Brinson spent most of her journalism career with Knight Ridder at The State newspaper in Columbia, SC, while also freelancing for national publications. She is the author of Stories of Struggle: The Clash over Civil Rights in South Carolina (University of South Carolina Press). Brinson lives in Columbia, SC.

Photographer Cecil Williams was born in Orangeburg, SC, in 1937. Williams dedicated himself to photographing civil rights activism, which he called a "journey toward freedom, justice, and equality." In 2019 he founded the Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum in Orangeburg, SC, where he resides.

"Injustice in Focus is the combination of an extraordinary photographer and outstanding journalist producing an important historical account of the civil rights struggle in South Carolina."—W. Lewis Burke, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of South Carolina School of Law

"With brilliance and great perception, Injustice in Focus illuminates the life of SC photographer Cecil Williams, a national treasure. Because the curious and ambitious Williams found himself amid a state-wide transformation, the book is much more than a biography of this remarkable man. It delivers a masterful and essential account of the SC civil rights movement and illustrates how important South Carolina was to the national movement. Williams and Brinson weave a rich tapestry of heroes: Clarendon County's Black parents, sharecroppers, farmers, teachers, ministers, and others who became the plaintiffs in Briggs v. Elliott; the student activists in the Orangeburg Freedom Movement and the Orangeburg Massacre; Matthew Perry and Harvey Gantt's integration of Clemson University, and so many more. This powerful examination of SC events demolishes the fallacy of anything dignified about the white reaction to equal rights. Williams is a visual storyteller, record-maker, and historian. Injustice exudes authenticity: Williams was there; he took the pictures. With vivid details that many in the national civil rights community do not know, this book is an extraordinary contribution to historical understanding."—Orville Vernon Burton, the Judge Matthew J. Perry Distinguished Professor of History, Clemson University; Emeritus University Distinguished Teacher/Scholar, University of Illinois; coauthor of Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court

"The book gives the reader intimate insights into the daring heroics displayed by Cecil Williams while documenting South Carolina's fight for freedom and justice during the 1940s through the 1960s. Williams's personal narrative and photos combined with a synthesis of extraordinary historical research are highly effective in lifting up courageous civil rights leaders and simultaneously illuminating South Carolina's record of discrimination, violence, and persecution during this period."—Henry N. Tisdale, President Emeritus, Claflin University

"A believer that "history must be written when new truths are uncovered," Cecil Williams has compelled us to study and remember the Civil Rights Movement in dramatically new ways. As this publication powerfully illustrates, Williams' work prompts deep reflection, stirs memories, and fills vital voids and omissions in the historical record."—Dr. Bobby Donaldson, history professor, Clyburn Professor of Public Service and Civic Engagement, and executive director of the Center for Civil Rights History and Research, University of South Carolina

"No one has done more to preserve the legacy of the courageous men and women who led the crusade for civil rights in South Carolina than Cecil Williams. Now Cecil Williams and Claudia Smith Brinson have combined to tell the fascinating story of the man, his camera, and the remarkable people whose history he so carefully recorded."—William Hine, professor emeritus of history, South Carolina State University, and author of South Carolina State University: A Black Land-Grant College in Jim Crow America

"Injustice in Focus is a treasure for anyone interested and committed to a broader understanding of the American civil rights narrative. Williams and Brinson combine their exemplary journalistic talents to brilliantly interweave the lives involved in this extraordinary account of South Carolina history that provided context and laid the foundation for advancing citizenship rights to Black people so long denied in the South."—Roy I. Jones, Ed.D., Professor & Executive Director, Call Me MiSTER Program, College of Education, Clemson University

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