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Obit: Photojournalist/Singer Bob Fitch(1939-2016)

Joe Offer 05 May 16 - 02:40 PM
Joe Offer 05 May 16 - 02:47 PM
Joe Offer 05 May 16 - 03:22 PM
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Subject: Obit: Bob Fitch (1939-2016)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 05 May 16 - 02:40 PM

I just got word that Bob Fitch died died on Friday April 29 at his home in Watsonville, Calif. He was 76.

Bob had been an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, but he found a career as a photojournalist, traveling with Martin Luther King Jr. and with Cesar Chavez. If you see photo displays about MLK or Chavez, no doubt you'll see a lot of Bob Fitch photos among them. By the time I met Bob at the Sacramento Song Circle in 1993, he was a bureaucrat working for the California Department of Housing and Community Development. He was a strong promoter of community singing, and he helped start song circles in Sacramento, Auburn, Grass Valley, and Watsonville in California; and in Reno, Nevada. Most likely, he was instrumental in the founding of the song circle in Bellingham, Washington, when he lived there. He spent the last years of his life in Santa Cruz and Watsonville, CA, still singing and involved as a community activist. When I last saw him at San Francisco's Camp New Harmony, he had a severe tremor in his hand. He said it was a congenital problem and he was going to have surgery to correct it. But I see he died of Parkinson's Disease.

Bob was one of the most interesting people I've ever known. He was a lusty singer and a good guitarist, and he was great at bringing people to join into a song. And how can I say this delicately....he had exquisite taste in women. I met my wife when she was Bob Fitch's date at the Sacramento Song Circle.

Rest in peace, Bob. You lived a very significant life, and you were a good man to the end. I'm proud to have known you.

Here's a song I learned from Bob. He said he learned it from Jon Fromer of San Francisco.

    May the work I have done speak for me.
    May the work I have done speak for me.
    If I fall short of my goal
    Someone else will take a hold
    May the work I have done speak for me.

full song text (click)

NY Times Obituary

Santa Cruz Sentinel Obituary

Bob Fitch Photography Archive: Movements for Change, Stanford University

2012 Bob Fitch Interview:

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Subject: RE: Obit: Photojournalist/Singer/Activist Bob Fitch
From: Joe Offer
Date: 05 May 16 - 02:47 PM

Here's the New York Times Obituary:

Bob Fitch, Photojournalist of Civil Rights Era, Dies at 76

Bob Fitch, a self-taught photojournalist whose images chronicled America's deep-seated ambivalence over civil rights and illustrated the passion underscoring other protest movements since the 1960s, died on Friday at his home in Watsonville, Calif. He was 76.

The cause was complications of Parkinson's disease, said Brian Murtha, his friend and executor.

"Photojournalism seduced me," Mr. Fitch wrote on his website. "It was my way to support the organizing for social justice that was transforming history, our lives and future."

Mr. Fitch, a preacher's son who became an ordained minister himself, was transformed from a Berkeley, Calif., teenager who rejected religious ritual into an instrument of social justice by sundry catalysts: his family's fundamental Christian ethos, the writing of James Baldwin and the music of Pete Seeger.

He photographed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent black civil rights figures as the official chronicler of the organization they founded, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Dorothy Day of the Catholic Workers Movement; Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers (his photo was the prototype for a 2002 postage stamp), and the Jesuit priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan and their followers who opposed the draft and the war in Vietnam. (Daniel Berrigan died on Saturday.)

Ron Dellums, the former California congressman and Oakland mayor, once baptized Mr. Fitch "Bullet Bob," saying that each vivid shot from his camera was "a bullet of truth into the heart of evil."

Summoned to Atlanta by Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, in 1968 to cover her husband's funeral, Mr. Fitch debated whether to photograph the open coffin.

"It was a tough decision to take that photo," he told a campus magazine at his alma mater, Lewis & Clark College, in Portland, Ore., last September. "It felt like blasphemy to put a camera in his face. But then I thought, 'The world needs to see this horrible truth.'"

Clayborne Carson, a Stanford University historian enlisted by Mrs. King to edit her husband's papers, recalled that Mr. Fitch was so trusted even in unguarded moments that he was the only white person present at an emotional meeting among Dr. King, Stokely Carmichael and other civil rights figures in Greenwood, Miss., in 1966, the night before Mr. Carmichael recast the movement by invoking the slogan "black power."

Mr. Fitch harbored no illusions, though, about why his offer to sign on as a photographer for the civil rights group had been accepted by Dr. King's lieutenant, Hosea Williams.

"I was told, 'Bob, we can't send African-American journalists and photographers into the field 'cause they'll get beat up and killed,'" Mr. Fitch recalled in an interview on the website "'Every week you'll come back with a news story in print and photos, and you'll send them to the major black print media around the nation.'"

While many photojournalists were assigned to protests primarily in case violence erupted, Mr. Fitch photographed the quotidian consequences of poverty and racially motivated crime and of individual victories, like that of a black man in Batesville, Miss., who, born before the Civil War began, registered to vote for the first time at 106.

Robert De Witt Fitch was born in Los Angeles on July 20, 1939. His father, Robert, was a United Church of Christ minister and professor of Christian ethics. His mother was the former Marion Weeks De Witt.

After attending high school in Berkeley in the 1950s, where he mingled with a socially conscious crowd, he graduated from Lewis & Clark in 1961 with a bachelor's degree in psychology and later earned a bachelor's and a master's of divinity at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, where his father was dean. He was ordained by the United Church of Christ in 1965.

During an internship at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, he worked with street gangs, the homeless, hippies and gay, lesbian and transsexual groups and was later a labor organizer and draft resistance counselor. He also worked for the California Department of Housing and the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, about 15 miles northwest of Watsonville, where he had lived since 2008.

Mr. Fitch took up photography after Glide Memorial asked him to provide pictures for books on urban issues that the church had begun publishing. He consulted professionals, took free courses, studied the works of Dorothea Lange and Henri Cartier-Bresson and discovered, he said, that "I had a pretty good eye." He volunteered his services to an acquaintance at the Southern Christian Leadership Council and was invited to visit.

In 2014, encouraged by Dr. Carson, the founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford, Mr. Fitch transferred his collection of about 275,000 images and negatives to the university with the proviso that they be available to researchers.

His photographs have been featured in Smithsonian Institution exhibits and in books, including "This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement" published in 2011.

Mr. Fitch is survived by his partner, Karen Denise Schaffer; a daughter, Nicole Ma Ka Wa Alexander; two sons, Daniel Robert Jaxon Ravens, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Washington State, and Benjamin Andrew Fitch, an actor; two grandchildren; and a sister, Shelley Herting.

His friend Mr. Murtha said he died at home as he paused while reading Dr. King's prescriptive book "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?," which was published less than a year before he was assassinated in 1968. Mr. Fitch once said that he had been inspired to join Dr. King after reading "The Fire Next Time," James Baldwin's seminal 1963 book expressing anger and despair over the state of race relations.

"I had a vision of myself being engaged with what I had encountered in the book in some sort of aesthetic manner," Mr. Fitch recalled. "I decided the next morning that the 'aesthetic' would not be writing — writing's too hard — and it wouldn't be as a painterly artist," he said, "but maybe photography, since I had developed those skills as a hobby."

He expanded on his life's work in talking to a group of college students a few years ago. "I'm not a professional photographer, I'm a political organizer," he said. "I happen to use the camera to tell the story of the work I do."

A version of this article appears in print on May 4, 2016, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Bob Fitch, 76, Activist Photographer Who Captured Civil Rights Era, Dies.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Photojournalist/Singer/Activist Bob Fitch
From: Joe Offer
Date: 05 May 16 - 03:22 PM

Here's the Obituary from the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

Bob Fitch, 1937-2016: Progressive activist chronicled historical movements as a participant and observer

Progressive activist chronicled historical movements as a participant and observer

By Wallace Baine, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Monday, May 2, 2016

WATSONVILLE: Though he created some of the most vivid and compelling photographs associated with the civil rights movement and farmworkers movement, Bob Fitch was not always comfortable with the term "journalist." There is a sense of professional detachment to that term, and though you can use a lot of words to describe Fitch, "detached" is certainly not one of them.

The Watsonville-based photographer and activist died Friday at the age of 76 after a long struggle with Parkinson's disease. He leaves behind a considerable legacy of political activism and volunteerism in a wide range of fields from nonviolence to labor rights to economic and racial equality.

But Fitch is best known for his work as a photographer, documenting the civil rights movement as a staff member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by Martin Luther King Jr., and later following Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union. Among the political figures that Fitch photographed were King, Chavez, Joan Baez, Dorothy Day, Ron Dellums and The Rev. Daniel Berrigan, the pacifist poet and Jesuit priest who died Saturday.

In 2002, one of Fitch's images was used by the U.S. Postal Service to honor Chavez. Fitch said that the stamp was an "honor but a disappointment" pointing to the Post Office's decision to drop out the background on the original photo, which showed the red-and-black flag of United Farm Workers and replace it with an agricultural field.

"He had a strong moral compass," said friend and fellow activist Bob Cooney who had known Fitch in a professional and personal capacity since the 1970s. "But he had a wonderful sense of humor as well. He wasn't a polemical type of person. He was straightforward, but he liked to have his fun too."

Locally, Fitch was well-known for his work with the Resource Center for Nonviolence. Striking up a friendship with the Center's director, the late-Scott Kennedy, Fitch was hired as the Center's volunteer and outreach coordinator, living on the premises as well. He held that position for seven years, after which he moved to Watsonville where he continued to pursue activist work.

"He was really an organizer and an activist," said Anita Heckman of the Resource Center. "He was always good at making connections in the media, in the labor movement, in many communities. And he donated a lot of his photos to the Resource Center for us to make posters for our events, and he was adamant of how those photos were used. He wanted to make sure other groups weren't taking advantage of the photos and they were being used for the benefit of the Resource Center."

That openness about his photographic work led him to donate his collections to Stanford University, on the stipulation that they be made available for free for any nonprofit organization.

"Bob would often say, 'Hey, I'm big and I'm loud,'" said Heckman. "And he could be overbearing and a bit of a know-it-all. But he always tried to temper that in groups and keep quiet so that others could be heard. But the thing about Bob, he wasn't just talking. He was talking from hard experience."

Maria Gitin is the author of "This Bright Light of Ours," a memoir of her work in the Deep South in the 1960s, to which Fitch donated four of his photos. Gitin said that Fitch had a "great generosity of spirit" but was disdainful of commercialism. He could be curmudgeonly and he was not always in step in with more modern politically correct, social-media-saturated modes of political activism.

Gitin said that he often used the term "Afro-American," an outdated term that was replaced by "black" and "African-American."

"Most of us care a lot what other people think of us, particularly white folks when it comes to these kinds of things," said Gitin. "But Bob was like, 'I know what I'm doing, and I know what I stand for.'"

Bob Fitch

Born: July 20, 1939 in Los Angeles.

Died: April 29, 2016 in Watsonville.

Occupation: Originally ordained as a minister, he began his career as a photographer for Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. Later he became staff photographer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where he traveled throughout the Deep South with Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists. Later, he worked for the California Department of Housing in developing affordable housing and after retiring from his state position, he settled in Santa Cruz where he worked with the Resource Center for Nonviolence as its volunteer coordinator. He had lived in Watsonville for the past nine years.

Photography: Bob Fitch maintained an archive of thousands of his photos taken during the civil rights and farmworkers movements, and donated them to Stanford University where they can be viewed and downloaded here.

Family: He leaves behind daughter Nicole "Makawa" Alexander, of Colorado Springs, Colorado; and sons Daniel Robert Jaxon Ravens of Seattle who serves as the chair of the Democratic Party of Washington state, and Benjamin Andrew Fitch, an actor living in Los Angeles.

Memorial: A memorial will be held at 2 p.m., May 27, at Peace United Church (Peace UCC), 900 High St., in Santa Cruz with a potluck meal to follow in the Fellowship Hall.

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