Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Fitch (Bob) photography archive
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (421.35 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Overview
Table of contents What's This?
The Bob Fitch Photography Archive consists of the photographic work of activist and photojournalist Bob Fitch, documenting the civil rights movement, the farm worker movement, the peace movement, other social justice movements and issues, cultural change, religion, as well as his professional and personal life.
Bob Dewitt Fitch (1939-2016) was an activist, photojournalist, union steward, community organizer, minister, housing program manager, and musician. He was born in Los Angeles, California on July 20, 1939. His father, Robert, was a professor of Christian ethics and a United Church of Christ minister. Bob Fitch’s mother, Marion Weeks Dewitt, was a homemaker. In 1950 the family moved to Berkeley, California, where Fitch became involved with socially committed families of Communist and Socialist organizers, was active in the folk music scene, and interned at the community-supported radio station KPFA. He graduated from Berkeley High School in 1957. In 1961 Bob Fitch graduated from Lewis and Clarke College in Portland, Oregon with a Bachelor's of Science in Psychology and then received a Bachelor's and Master's in Divinity from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. While in the seminary Fitch read James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time and had an experience where he felt the need to somehow be artistically involved in portraying the elements emphasized in the book. He settled on photography as the best medium to achieve this goal. Fitch was ordained as a United Church of Christ minister in 1965. After graduating from the Pacific School of Religion Fitch interned with the Glide Foundation in San Francisco, where he was a community organizer working with street gangs, the homeless, hippies, and gay, lesbian, and transsexual groups. The Glide Foundation asked Bob Fitch to do photography for books published by them. Without any formal training in photography, Fitch studied the works of Dorothea Lange and Henri Cartier-Bresson, talked to professional photographers, took free courses on photography, and began documenting the groups he was working with in San Francisco. In 1965 Fitch was invited to be a staff photographer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the civil rights movement. He worked in areas and situations where it was considered to be too dangerous for African-American journalists to operate. His role was to take photographs and file stories, acting as a wire service for national African-American newspapers and magazines. Fitch photographed voter registration, voting, and recruitment and training for African-American political candidates during the first election following the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. He also documented the everyday lives of African-Americans, including marches, demonstrations, meetings, SCLC's organizing efforts in Chicago, Martin Luther King Jr.'s People-to-People tours in Alabama, and the Meredith Mississippi March Against Fear. In 1968 Bob Fitch moved back to Oakland, California where he continued to document and be involved in social justice movements. After Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April 1968, Fitch photographed Coretta Scott King and her family during the funeral and afterwards. Discouraged after attending an interracial retreat on nonviolence in the Santa Cruz Mountains which devolved into divisiveness, a vision of Martin Luther King Jr., appeared to Fitch and told him "Bob! Continue the work!" The next day Fitch made a list of leaders in social justice movements that he admire and respected. He wanted to document them before they too were killed, beaten, or jailed. These activists included David Harris and Joan Baez, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, and Pete Seeger. He also sought to document cultural and spiritual movements including hippies, communes and the anti-war movement. Fitch documented political campaigns and local and national politicians including Ron Dellums, Warren Widener, Betty Ann Bruno, Shirley Chisholm, and Andrew Young. He also photographed journalists, photographers, activists, clergy, and artists including: Cornell Capa, Don Devereaux, Betita Martinez, Evan Golder, Robert Olmstead, and Ali Luterman. In his photography he emphasized the role of the rank and file as agents for social change and he was propelled by a desire to not just observe movements but to be deeply involved in them. In 1978 Fitch started working for California’s Department of Housing and Community Development, where he helped develop affordable housing in rural communities. After retiring in 1996 Fitch continued his involvement in social justice movements by working with the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz and travelling to Israel and Palestine, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Brazil, and Mexico. He also worked for immigrants' rights and for Luis Alejo's campaign for California Assembly. Bob Fitch died of complications from Parkinson's disease on April 29, 2016 in Watsonville, California. Bob Fitch wrote several books, his photographs have been featured in books and in exhibits, including at the Smithsonian Institution.
83.4 Linear Feet 140 containers (133 manuscript boxes, 6 flat boxes, and one map folder)
There is no fee for non-commercial image downloading and use. Commercial use requires permission from the Department of Special Collections and University Archives prior to publishing or rebroadcasting any item or work, in whole or in part, held by the Department. More information can be found on our permissions page [http://library.stanford.edu/spc/using-collections/permission-publish].
The collection is open for research except restricted materials which are closed until the date noted at the file level. The majority of audiovisual material in the collection has been digitally reformatted for preservation and materials that are unrestricted are available to view in the Special Collections Reading Room; audiovisual materials not already reformatted are not available in original format, and must be reformatted to a digital use copy. Note that material must be requested at least 36 hours in advance of intended use.