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It’s unwise to be sniffy about popular culture.

Television — the idiot box, the boob tube — was best of friends with the civil rights movement in the 1960s, bringing its valiant images, week after week, into American homes. Pictorial glossies like Life and Look had done a similar service a decade earlier.

Were such corporate media acting on unsuspected reserves of social good will? For the most part, no. They had news to sell, and the illustrations for that news — images of people subjected to violence and then gathering together in the largest mass meeting the country had ever seen — happened to be sensational. You had to pay attention. You couldn’t not have a reaction.

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But how, exactly, did the delivery of such images come about? And why? An exhibition called “For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights” at the International Center of Photography is here to give some answers, backed up by a second show, “Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956-1968” at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

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