Showcasing powerful stories of the fight for freedom and equality in California from the Gold Rush to the post-9/11 eras, a new exhibition, “Wherever There’s a Fight: A History of Civil Liberties in California,” opens on Monday, May 7, at the Woodland Public Library.
The traveling exhibition, rich with narrative and photographs, animates the history of civil liberties focusing on the hidden stories of unsung heroes and heroines throughout California who stood up for their rights in the face of social hostility, physical violence, and economic hardship.
“Wherever There’s a Fight” is part of California Council for the Humanities’ Searching for Democracy, a thematic program designed to examine the meaning of democracy today. The exhibition — which runs through June 30 — is based on the Heyday Books’ publication “Wherever There’ a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California,” by Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi (2009), and is presented by Exhibit Envoy and curated by Elinson and Yogi.
In both the book and the exhibition, four central themes are evident: civil liberties that are essential for democracy; while civil liberties struggles repeat over time, targeted groups change; civil liberties are in perpetual flux; and while the Constitution promises rights, every generation must fight for equality and justice to make them meaningful.
Thirteen interpretive panels of photographs and texts tell the stories of ordinary people capable of extraordinary acts, who fought violations of their civil liberties in California, reflecting the prejudices and political winds of the times.
These include Paul Robeson, who told the House Un-American Activities Committee, “You are the Un-Americans and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.” Anton Refregier’s colorful murals, targeted for destruction by a 1953 Congressional inquisition but ultimately declared historically protected, depict the true stories of Indians at the missions, anti-Chinese riots, and labor strikes. And in 1939, the Kern County Board of Supervisors banned John Steinbeck’s instant best-seller “Grapes of Wrath,” though 600 readers already had put it on reserve.
The Woodland Public Library is at 250 First St., Woodland. The hours are Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m., and the exhibit may be viewed for free.
An opening reception is planned from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 9, in the Leake Conference Room in the library. The public is invited to attend. The reception is sponsored by the Friends of the Woodland Public Library, League of Women Voters, and the Ethic Studies Cross Cultural Series at Woodland Community College.