As remembered by Matt Herron
May 24, 2015
I hardly know where to begin: David was not well known in civil rights circles. He functioned mainly as a photographer, had done some shooting in Mississippi in 1963, and then worked with me during the summer of 1964 as a member of the Southern Documentary Team. He was best known around Shaw and Mount Bayou in Bolivar County, where he courted a young woman from the Shaw project, who shortly after that summer became Bonnie Prince. They have been together ever since.
David worked all over the South. He was severely beaten in Selma (the subject of my previous email), shot a notable Wallace rally in Georgia, and shortly after the murders in Neshoba County became close friends with the Chaney family in Meridian. He did a wonderfully tender essay on Ben Chaney, James' ten-year-old brother, as Ben struggled to come to terms with his brother's murder and the unexpected roles thrust upon him by that event. It's one of the major contributions to /Mississippi Eyes /(see pp 75-90 for the pictures and more on David), and remains the principal testament to David's civil rights work — most of his other photographs were lost in an apartment fire years later.
David was both modest and courageous. He faced some of the toughest situations of that summer, continued working effectively after his Selma beating, and never called attention to his exploits. While he was in Meridian, LIFE Magazine, which had helped finance our documentary project and had a sharing arrangement with us, made an editorial decision that the Neshoba murders were the "big story" of the summer. They began pulling strings to get an exclusive on the Chaney funeral, and assigned David to shoot the ceremony because of the rapport he had developed with the Chaney family. When David learned the extent of their manipulations, he pulled out considering it a violation of the trust the family had extended him. A LIFE writer threatened him: "You'll never work for LIFE again", but it didn't matter. His personal integrity and concern for the family were worth so much more.
Although I've kept in touch with David over the years, and included his work in "This Light of Ours", the civil rights show I curated several years ago, bonnieI don't know much about his subsequent life. I know he became a filmmaker and shot documentaries in Africa, and David, Bonnie, Jeannine and I shared a memorable evening meal during last year's 50th celebration at Tougaloo.
I will miss him greatly. He was a staunch friend, and a stalwart contributor to the task of documenting Mississippi. I'm sure others will miss him as well.
David essentially died from spinal injuries that may have been initiated by his beating in Selma. As some of you know, he worked with me as part of the Southern Documentary Team during the summer of 1964.
What you may not know is that David was severely beaten with baseball bats in Selma early in that summer, by two locals encouraged by Jim Clark's posse. David and Jerry DeMuth were finally able to drive to Montgomery where they were treated in hospital. A few days later, David was examined by a Department of Justice doctor, who after looking at X-rays of his spine, told him, "Well, the way you're going, it's unlikely you're ever going to make your sixties, but if you do, all this will probably come back to haunt you. For the life of me, I don't know why you're not completely paralyzed." (Full account, pp 16- 18, Mississippi Eyes.
I can't help wondering whether that beating didn't finally come back to haunt him."
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