By Erika Beras
Eli Reed was the first full-time black photographer employed by the Photographic co-operative Magnum Photos. He made a name for himself photographing conflicts from Beirut to El Salvador, chronicling refugee camps in Kenya and Tanzania and capturing the unseen sides of celebrities and politicians.
He’s won accolades for his work – among them a World Press Award and an Overseas Press Club Award. Now, in the fourth decade of his career, he teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and continues to make pictures.
But perhaps his most enduring images are those of black life in America.
In these photos, Reed brings to life moments joyful, mundane and painful – including the racial conflicts of the late 80’s early 90’s that set parts of New York City ablaze.
New York City was teeming with racial tension stemming from the civil rights-era unrest earlier decades, compounded by the financial meltdown of the 70’s. By the 80’s, crime was rampant and racialized incidents frequently erupted into violence.
Reed photographed several of these incidents– including the aftermath of the violent death of black teenager Yusef Hawkins at the hands of a white mob in Brooklyn in1989. Two years later, riots broke out in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn after two black children were struck by a white driver.
These tumultuous times, says Reed, weren’t isolated incidents – they were a precedent to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. The murders and crimes committed against blacks were ignored or dismissed by the mainstream media – and accepted as the norm.
In these stories, Reed shares what it was like covering these some of these pivotal events.
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