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Matt Herron, civil rights photojournalist and activist, dies at 89

Herron is pictured during a visit to the King Institute.
Image © Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute

Matt Herron, an activist, acclaimed photojournalist of the civil rights movement, and friend of the King Institute, passed away on 7 August. Born in 1931, Herron earned a B.A. in English at Princeton University and was a conscientious objector during the Korean War, when he first gained experience in organizing peaceful demonstrations. Herron privately studied photography under Minor White, a photographer for the American Friends Service Committee, and one of his earliest assignments was to document the Tennessee and North Carolina lunch counter sit-ins for Lifeand Lookmagazines. 

Herron moved to Jackson, Mississippi, with his family in the summer of 1963, where he focused his work on the civil rights movement. Mentored by Dorothea Lange, Herron founded the Southern Documentary Project in 1964, a team of six photographers seeking to document the process of social change in the South. Alongside his wife Jeannine, Herron founded the Child Development Group of Mississippi in 1965. The statewide Head Start initiative was the largest in the nation and provided impoverished children with school preparation, two meals per day, and medical services.  

Herron’s photos of the historic Selma to Montgomery march brought worldwide attention to the struggle for racial justice. His photograph of the attack on a child by a Mississippi Highway patrolmen won Herron the World Press Photo Contest in 1965. Herron captured some of the most iconic photographs of the civil rights era, covering the movement for LifeLookNewsweekTime, and Saturday Evening Post. Herron’s work is also featured in his 2014 book Mississippi Eyes: The Story and Photography of the Southern Documentary Projectand is on exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, National Civil Rights Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution, amongst others. 

Herron’s obituary can be found here: