JIM MERDALL’S photo career is a remarkable one.
The former National Guard infantryman spent nearly 20 years as a photographer with the Army before the Civil Rights Movement brought the Civil Service System to the forefront of American history.
His images, however, were almost always captured in the trenches and jungles of the South.
He became known as the “Lost Cause” of the American Civil War and a popular symbol of that era.
A Pulitzer Prize winner for his photographs documenting the horrors of Reconstruction, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1961 and the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1967.
His photographs, which are considered among the most influential in American history, were used as a blueprint for the Civil Liberties movement in the United States and around the world.
When he retired in 2016, the former New York Times photographer was the recipient of the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
This week, he shared a few of the images he’s most proud of with us.
“We have a very, very good sense of what the civil rights movement meant to America,” he said.
“It was a very brave movement and a very courageous movement, but it was not a great movement.
The Civil Rights movement was a movement of the 99 percent.
That’s a really powerful word.
We have a lot of respect for that, but that was a terrible word.”
In the photo above, he captured the moment on July 4, 1955 when a white police officer shot and killed Martin Luther King Jr. at the Memphis Police Department.
That shooting marked a turning point in the Civil Right Movement, which led to the passage of the 1964 Voting Rights Act.
He continued to capture the Civil Wars and the Civil rights movement through the decades, documenting his subjects through the years, and he’s been an important figure in the history of American photography.
“I have a good sense for the history, but I don’t have a great sense for how to make it look cool or make it really interesting or to make the images look cool,” he continued.
“I don’t want the history to look like the story.
I want it to look real.”
And he’s not the only photographer to take a moment to reflect on his work.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in September, will exhibit his images, as well as others from his life and the lives of his family and friends.
In the middle of the night, his wife, Diane, and their three young daughters were awoken to find him slumped over a bed in bed with a gun in his hands, according to CNN.
His children called 911.
When they arrived at the scene, the police officer had been shot in the head, he said, and Diane was dead.
His wife, a mother of three, died of complications from the wounds.
He was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
He eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to life in prison.
In his final days, he told The Washington Post he was going to go to prison and to die.
“When I die, I’m going to tell my family,” he told the newspaper.
“They’re going to have to be with me for the rest of my life.”
He was released in 2014.
And for years after, he would spend his days photographing the Civil Mischief and other historic sites in the North Carolina countryside, including the Battle of Fort Sumter, where Confederate soldiers were ordered to surrender, according the Smithsonian.
“The war I fought in was not about slavery,” he once said.