Photographer Will Counts Dies

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(AP) Will Counts, whose photograph of a white crowd jeering a black girl captured the drama of the 1957 Little Rock, Ark., desegregation crisis, died of cancer. He was 70.

Counts, who died Saturday, taught photojournalism at Indiana University for 32 years, retiring in 1995. He had lived in Bloomington since 1960.

Before turning to teaching, Counts worked as a photographer-editor for the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock, Ark., and for The Associated Press in Chicago and Indianapolis.

He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for photographs he took during the September 1957 desegregation battle at Little Rock’s Central High School. Despite a court order, Arkansas Gov. Orval E. Faubus ordered the National Guard in to prevent black students from entering. Faubus’ action prompted President Eisenhower to dispatch federal troops to desegregate the school.

One of the photos showed a 15-year-old black student, Elizabeth Eckford, outside the school with a crowd jeering in her wake. It was named by The Associated Press as one of the top 100 photographs of the 20th century.

Counts visited Little Rock in 1997 for the events marking the 40th anniversary of the crisis. He said something touched him inside when Eckford walked to the school alone.

“From the time Elizabeth first approached the National Guard, you knew this was a major confrontation between the governor and the federal government,” Counts recalled. “She became a symbol for the Little Rock crisis.”

“I felt empathy, but this is a job. That’s what you’re trained to do. You just hope you have film,” he said.

Hazel Bryan Massery was the white teen jeering at Eckford in the photograph. She later apologized to Eckford and spoke out publicly against racism, and in 1997, Counts took a picture of the two women together in front of the school. Eckford told her: “I think you’re very brave to face the cameras again.”

Counts’ work is contained in books including “The Magnificent 92: Indiana Courthouses,” and “A Life is More Than a Moment: The Desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High.”

Counts earned an education degree at Arkansas State Teachers College and later earned master’s and doctoral degrees from IU.

Survivors include his wife, Vivian; his daughter, Claudia Counts, former Associated Press enterprise photo editor; a son, Wyatt Counts; a stepdaughter, Katie Lattimer; and a stepson, Bob McRae.

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