Daniel LaRue Johnson
This work, part of Daniel LaRue Johnson’s “Black Constructions” series of the 1960s, questions the treatment of civil rights protesters from a deeply personal perspective. Johnson made Freedom Now, Number 1 (1963–64) after he personally experienced civil rights activism in the Deep South. As a powerful political statement about the perils of racism once deeply entrenched in the United States, this work reflects the challenges and struggles surrounding activism and change. At the center of the composition is the “freedom now” button that lends the work its name. This campaign pin was worn by civil rights activists as a public form of support and solidarity for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The other items—blackened, crushed, and torn—suggest the aftermath of violence, as if trampled to the ground. Johnson created this work in the context of the dramatic and destructive racial politics of 1963, with violent attacks on protesters, such as the one that occurred when Martin Luther King organized a civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama. As it bears silent witness to human suffering, Freedom Now, Number 1 takes on a poetic poignancy.