Among those that raised their voice in protest were many of the popular entertainers of the day. A famous Budnik photograph of the March on Washington shows Charlton Heston, Julie and Harry Belafonte, closely followed by James Garner, Diahann Carroll and a very young and hirsute Paul Newman. They are followed by Anthony Franciosa and Marlon Brando.
At the March on Washington, Budnik also photographed luminaries such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez who sang for the people, film star Sidney Poitier, writer James Baldwin, and director Joseph Mankiewicz.
Budnik also tells an interesting story of when he went to the airport in Montgomery, Alabama on the fourth day of the Selma to Montgomery March. He was standing next to Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King who were holding hands waiting for a delayed flight carrying Harry Belafonte from California.
“I raised my camera to take a photo, not knowing how they would react. Dr. King started pulling away but Mrs. King wanted me to photograph that moment and she pulled him back. In that moment I realised the strength and power of this extraordinary woman.”
In fact, when asked how well he knew Martin Luther King, Budnik says that although he did speak with him on a number of occasions, as with all his subjects, he tried to keep his distance from those he was photographing “or your concentration could get disrupted – it changes the dynamic”.
In October of 1958, during Eisenhower’s presidency, Budnik accompanied a group of young multi-racial student activists during the Youth March for Integrated Schools. Harry Belafonte and Bayard Rustin led the students to present the president with a petition calling for integrated schools. Presenting a petition is the constitutional right of every American.
“Reaching the gates of the White House, which to my relief were open,” Budnik recalls, “the two student leaders approached to present their petition. The gates to the White House were then flung shut in the face of the students.
“The captain of the guard yelled out ‘What y’all want’. Answering, they told this captain, who I could tell was a Southerner and most probably a racist, that they wanted to present their petition. The captain told them, ‘Well, he ain’t here right now, the president’s not here’. It was total intimidation.
“Then from behind the gates, where there was a little kiosk, two secret service agents came out with 16mm cameras. One started filming as if he was collecting mug-shots, but when he got to me he was startled as I was a white and I was photographing him. ‘And what do you think you are doing?’ he asked. I was so angry, I said, ‘You b*****d, I’ve been with these kids all day. They’re solid Americans and they are just doing what any American has the right to do’. Well, he didn’t have an answer to that and just turned on his heels.”
Since 1966, Budnik has been involved in the struggle Native Americans have been waging for their dignity and rights. While there are some echoes of the early African-American civil rights issues, the issue of American Indians (principally the Hopi and Navajo nations whose reservations are nearby to where Budnik currently resides in Arizona) is quite different. Budnik’s primary focus has been to call attention to the abuse that Native Americans endure.
Trolley Books (www.trolleybooks.com), began a Kickstarter Campaign to ensure that Budnik’s historic Civil Rights photographs reach a wider audience. Essentially, those that donate to the campaign will receive a copy of Budnik’s Marching to the Freedom Dream book in the Spring of 2014, but you’ll have to hurry. The Kickstarter Campaign finishes at the end of September, giving readers barely 10 days after New African’s October Black History Month special issue appears on the continent’s newsstands.
Budnik’s very first professional assignment was in 1957, photographing Tom Mboya, Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Belafonte for Drum magazine. To learn more about Dan Budnik or view more of his images, please visit www.danbudnik.com.