Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos


with 20 comments

Bill Hudson, who died yesterday was an AP photographer who covered the civil rights movement. Hudson was in Birmingham, Alabama when police turned their dogs on demonstrators who defied a city ban on protests and again in Selma, when the choice of weapon was fire hoses. Like many other iconographers of the era, he documented police brutality and helped galvanize the public, both domestically and internationally.

The most famous of Hudson’s photos was taken in Birmingham on May 3, 1963, it seemingly showed a police dog attacking a young protestor. The officer’s dark sunglasses, his clenched teeth. his grabbing the youth by his sweater as he lets a police dog bury its teeth into the youth’s stomach, and the youth’s passive, lowering of eyes seems to suggest that totalitarian state has finally come to America. The New York Times published the photo across three columns above the fold the next day.

Like so many other photos on the blog, the image, however, has a complicated backstory. The youth was a high school senior Walter Gadsden; he was not even a protestor but merely a bystander. The officer was Dick Middleton, a mild-mannered policeman, who arrested Gadsden earlier for refusing an order to leave the street. Yet unlike others photos, some information in the photo; either the audience is distracted by other visual cues (dark sunglasses, absence of Gadsden’s look) or it just chose to ignore the inconvenient facts that didn’t fit the narrative of a peaceful protest.

Gadsden had his gaze lowered not because of passivity, but because the gaze was on the dog, whom he would subsequently attack. Middleton was not setting his dog on Gadsden but separating the dog away from Gadsden. Hudson’s photo captures the moment as Gadsden plunges his left knee into the dog’s throat. Gadsden also was seen clenching Middleton’s hand in an apparently defiant gesture. In addition, almost tranquil nature of people in the background suggests that this was neither the centre of the protest nor the scene of widespread police brutality.

This is not to suggest that the police brutality didn’t happen in Birmingham. But with Hudson’s death yesterday, we will never know what exactly the photo shows. The image, which merely showed two unruly dogs, was an icon for an event it may not represent.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 26, 2010 at 6:14 pm

20 Responses

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  1. From Wiki:
    Right in front of Hudson stepped Parker High School senior Walter Gadsden when a police officer grabbed the young man’s sweater and a police dog charged him. Gadsden had been attending the demonstration as an observer. He was related to the editor of Birmingham’s black newspaper, The Birmingham World, who strongly disapproved of King’s leadership in the campaign. Gadsden was arrested for “parading without a permit”, and after witnessing his arrest, Commissioner Connor remarked to the officer, “Why didn’t you bring a meaner dog; this one is not the vicious one.”

    Butch In Waukegan

    June 26, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    • Right Student – Wrong Birmingham High School and wrong age for the student.
      The Student photographed and named in Mr. Hudson’s photo attended Birmingham’s Ullman High School in May 1963. The next semester, he transferred from Ullman Hi. The student in Bill Hudson’s iconic photo is named Walter Gasden, a then 10th grade student at Ullman High School. This information can be corroborated by the Southern history Department of the Birmingham Public Library. The author of “Carry Me Home,” Diane McWorther, also names Walter Gadsden as the student in Hudson’s New York times photo.

      Please correct your article accordingly. You may contact Ronald E. Jackson, executive Director, Citizens For Better Schools & Sustainable Communities, (205) 862-0538 – Email: cfbsk12@gmail.com

      Ronald E. Jackson

      February 26, 2014 at 10:41 pm

  2. Where, pre chance, did you get your information in the original post about the mild mannered cop and the aggressive negro?


    June 26, 2010 at 9:41 pm

  3. […] Bill Hudson, who died yesterday was an AP photographer who covered the civil rights movement. Hudson was in Birmingham, Alabama when police turned their dogs on demonstrators who defied a city ban on protests and again in Selma, when the choice of weapon was fire hoses. Like many other iconographers of the era, he documented police brutality and helped galvanize the public, both domestically and internationally. The most famous of Hudson's photos … Read More […]

  4. where is the citation and reference for these “facts”?


    June 27, 2010 at 7:23 am

  5. I have no idea what happened, but Wiki is the last place I’d go to find out.


    June 27, 2010 at 9:39 am

    • The last place you’d go to find out when it provides citations for almost every claim on all of its pages? I’m not saying another site does not exist like Wikipedia but show it to me. I don’t believe such a site exists. If Wikipedia were to criticize itself like you have done, at least it would have a citation for it. :)


      July 18, 2010 at 7:53 pm

  6. You forgot to include this photo, which slyly misrepresents the Alabama authorities’ attempt to put out a fire and the wily black civil rights protestors getting in the way: http://www.milkintheclock.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/passive_resistance_fire_hose.jpg

    Soul on Ice

    June 27, 2010 at 1:09 pm

  7. After what happen this spring with the Congressional Black Caucus members and their faked claims of chants of “ni&&er” at the capitol building, I have to question all the charges of abuse during the civil rights charges. If they are lying now, they could have been lying then.


    June 27, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    • “faked claims”?

      Soul on Ice

      June 27, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    • Mindless bigots like you makes peace an impossible feat.

      Painful Truth

      June 21, 2012 at 2:34 am

  8. “and the youth’s passive, lowering of eyes”

    He isn’t that passive, Look he at his left hand, He has lowered his eyes because he is watching out for the dog.


    June 28, 2010 at 6:08 am

  9. Based on the text regarding this photo, I like to hear your take on photos of Rev. Fred Shuttleworth’s home being bombed and photos of the Four Little Girls that were murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. Were they in the way of the dynamite that was planted and just “happened” to go off at the wrong time? Perhaps they didn’t see the detonators or didn’t run fast enough to escape the bomb’s blast radius? While you are spinning, why not give the “backstory” on the Emmett Till or the Cheney, Schwerner and Goodman photos? Those photos just CANNOT be what they look like and need further explanation, after all. *Seriously disgusted eye roll*

    Birmingham Native

    July 6, 2010 at 7:04 pm

  10. Another weird story to go along with a photo related to the civil rights of African Americans from Iconic Photos. I looked all over the internet to find this version of the photo and came up with someone’s random website and their interpretation of the photo (there was no indication that it was a sourced story of a bystander). The fact that this story focuses on the dog’s well-being is funny to me considering the history of the Civil Rights movement. Even as an animal lover, this is still really ludicrous and disgusting. Whose knee wouldn’t go up as a dog went to bite them in the torso?? If he were attacking first, his knee wouldn’t be up there and his entire frame would be different. I can’t imagine someone, especially a skinny teenager, ready to take on a dog and his officer looking that passive about it. And his hand on the officer’s arm (even though the officer is pulling him INTO the dog’s snout) being interpreted as an aggressive way to get power to knee the dog? WTF? You have to be a racist dick to see it that way.

    The source of this is angry at MLK for daring to get the nation’s attention, even though it was non-violent, on civil rights violations. He accuses MLK of wanting the KKK to commit violent acts. He accuses blacks of setting bombs in their own neighborhoods. All non-sourced accounts of course. And the website that hosts this story? Advocates anti-govt, pro-stock up on guns, apocalypse type crap.

    The fact that Iconic Photos decided to repeat this guy’s claims just makes me want to ask this site to refrain from posting Civil Rights-era photos because it has a tendency to be defiantly ignorant on this issue in exchange for borderline anti-civil rights rhetoric.


    July 17, 2010 at 4:38 am

  11. […] remember Bill Hudson, Charles Moore, Elfie Ballis or Jeff Carter is to ponder the fortunes of the voiceless to whom […]

  12. This poor defenseless police officer and his gentle dog is being savagely attacked by this vicious youth.

    Don’t make me laugh!

    Bruce Laidlaw

    January 14, 2012 at 9:38 am

  13. […] Protest in Birmingham, Alabama, May 3, 1963, photo by Bill Hudson […]

  14. Does anyone know where this young man is today? It would be interesting to hear his take on this iconic photograph.

    Donna Green

    February 2, 2013 at 3:47 am

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