Neve Shalom Gallery

A Civil Rights Story

by Rabbi James Stone Goodman

The art gallery at Neve Shalom displays art that might not be seen anywhere else, some of it fringe, outsider art, some treasures not yet discovered, all of it accompanied by stories. Our shows are always accompanied by original creations in other forms: poetry, music, and story.

As in all our shows at the Neve Shalom gallery, there is a mixture of image and text and music. There is a story told on texts also hung among the pictures. At our openings and showings, there is also music, live and recorded, to accompany the show, a kind of context in which to engage the art more seriously. The mix of art and story, art and music, visual art and written art, story, poetry, the tale of the art and often the tale of the artist come alive in our gallery.

The Location

Our current exhibition is dedicated to the freedom story that in this incarnation appeared in Cairo, Illinois. There the artist, photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller, went to document one of the last great civil rights stories of the late Sixties, early Seventies, in Cairo, Illinois, the southernmost city in the state of Illinois at the convergence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Cairo is often referred to as "the place the North began." Buses coming north from the South could remove their separation curtain in Cairo. But there was something seething in Cairo.

Cairo had been a city in decline since the early twentieth century; with the decline of local lumbering and the rise of Chicago as a port came the dwindling of Cairo's population in every decade since the 1920s. Cairo was no stranger to civil rights. A young lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, tried a case as chief counsel of the NAACP on behalf of the African American teachers of Cairo in 1941.

By the time of the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties, Cairo was in serious decline. It was beset by shootings, street riots, and one of the longest boycotts (of white owned business) in the Movement. It lasted a decade. Instead of hiring Black workers, the White storeowners closed one business after another and left. The city of Cairo committed suicide by racism.

The Artist

Kevin Martini-Fuller teaches photography at Webster University, UMSL, and Maryville. The pictures in our exhibition were his Master's thesis at SIU-Carbondale that he completed in 1993, when he was 51 years old. He had returned to school after fifteen years in a corporate cocoon because he had always been interested in photography. His grandfather was a photographer at the turn of the century.

I ended up at SIU-Carbondale. I visited Cairo. It was like an empty amusement park, a city with nobody there. At Carbondale, we archived all this guy's photographs in the library, Preston Ewing. Where were these photographs made? I asked. Cairo, Illinois. Can't be, I've been there. There's nothing there. I thought: I would like to do a re-photographing project, showing the past and the present. I found this great story.

In Kevin's pictures, there is a story captured in the images. You are looking through images taken by long time Cairo resident Preston Ewing. There is a second story in the images you are looking at taken by Kevin, twenty years later. How have we changed? How has the place changed? These questions are asked in Kevin's pictures.

With Kevin's show, we ask these questions and remember these stories. Come and join us for a musical, story telling opening of poetry and image and music, with the artist, in honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. All events take place at Congregation Neve Shalom, 1240 Dautel, in the Rainbow Village, on Saturday night, January 14, beginning at 7 PM.

There is no charge for the exhibition or the concert.

For more information, you may call Neve Shalom at 314-863-4366.