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Protesters holding signs at a rally, including one that reads 'ASIANS 4 BLACK LIVES' and another 'All Men Are Created Equal — Black Lives Matter,' during a demonstration in an urban setting. The event highlights solidarity and support for the Black Lives Matter movement from the Asian community.

Photo from Corky Lee

Why "Photographic Justice" Mattered to Asian American Photographer Corky Lee

May 15, 2024

Why "Photographic Justice" Mattered to Asian American Photographer Corky Lee

Ask students: What subjects from history did Lee cover? Why did Lee want to feature Asian Americans in his photography?

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May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. For NewsHour's “Hidden Histories” series, we learn about Corky Lee, a photographer who chronicled the daily lives, struggles and contributions of Asian Americans, a community that is often marginalized, unsung and unseen.

View the transcript of the story.

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Discussion Questions

  • Who was Corky Lee?
  • When did Lee start taking photographs?
  • What subjects from history did Lee cover?
  • Why did Lee want to feature Asian Americans in his photography?
  • How does Lee's work covering protests (see photo below) support his belief in the idea of "photographic justice"?

Focus Questions

Corky Lee said his life's mission was the pursuit of what he called photographic justice, changing America one photograph at a time. What photographs stood out to you from this piece and why? Outside this piece, was there a photograph you came across or took yourself that changed or affected you in some way? Explain.

Media literacy: What else would you like to know about Lee's life? What questions would you want to ask him if he were alive today?

Extension Activity

What do you know about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad and the treatment of Chinese workers on the railroad? Why do you think Corky Lee took this photograph?

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Large group of people posing in front of historic steam locomotives during a commemorative event, with mountains in the background. The event highlights the diverse community gathering to celebrate historical achievements and heritage.

PBS NewsHour: Screenshot of Corky Lee's photograph

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Black and white photo of a woman in traditional Asian attire holding a newspaper and a torch, standing next to a mural of the Statue of Liberty. The image captures a blend of cultural heritage and American symbolism in an urban setting.

PBS NewsHour: Screenshot of photo by Corky Lee

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Group of Sikh Americans, including a man wrapped in an American flag and a girl in traditional attire, holding small U.S. flags during a patriotic gathering. The image highlights the Sikh community's pride and integration into American society.

PBS NewsHour: Screenshot of photo by Corky Lee

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Black and white photo of an Asian American firefighter in uniform standing next to a fire truck with 'Chinatown' and a dragon emblem on the grille. The image highlights the presence and contribution of Asian Americans in the firefighting community.

PBS NewsHour: Screenshot of photo by Corky Lee

According to the NewsHour piece, Lee was present taking photos of when Chinese Americans took to the streets of New York in 1975 to protest the police beating of a Chinese American man. He was also in Detroit in 1983 when protests erupted over the lack of prison time for two white men who had pleaded guilty to killing Vincent Chin. Learn more about the story of Vincent Chin here or watch the clip Revisiting ‘Who Killed Vincent Chin?’, Asian American Civil Rights Nearly 40 Years Later.

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Black and white photo of a protest march with people holding signs that read 'Justice for Vincent Chin,' 'Japanese Americans for Justice,' and 'It's Not Fair!' The image captures a moment of activism and solidarity within the Asian American community seeking justice for Vincent Chin. #PBSNewsWeekend

PBS NewsHour: Screenshot of Corky Lee's photograph

Republished with permission from PBS NewsHour Classroom.

Asian American and Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander Heritage

Join the Share My Lesson community in celebrating the generations of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans who have enriched global society, playing a critical role in its development and success. With our wealth of prek-12 digital resources, you and your students can explore the remarkable contributions that AANHPI Americans have given to history, culture, the sciences, industry, government and more.

PBS NewsHour Classroom

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.

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