He turned lens on push for civil rights

Alex Rivera of Durham, a retired photojournalist who covered the civil-rights movement and created the public-relations office at N.C. Central University, died Thursday night. He was 95.

“He was a very, very good, caring individual,” said NCCU photographer Robert Lawson, who knew and worked with Rivera for 50 years. “He was a giant of a man.”

“Alex lived a very long and good life,” said state Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. “He had a deep intellect and ... great compassion.”

In a statement, NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms said Rivera was not only “an integral part of the university's history, he made invaluable contributions to the world.”

A native of Greensboro whose father, Alexander Rivera Sr., was an active member of the NAACP, the younger Rivera worked for several of the nation's most prominent black newspapers. He left the Washington (D.C.) Tribune in 1939, at the invitation of NCCU founder James Shepard, to establish a news bureau at the school. (Rivera's father was Shepard's dentist.)

After naval intelligence service in World War II, Rivera covered Virginia and the Carolinas as correspondent for the Pittsburgh Courier and National Negro Press Association. He reported on the last lynchings in South Carolina and Georgia, and on the Yanceyville trial of a black man charged with “reckless eyeballing” of a white woman in 1951.

“He was heavily involved in covering Brown v. Board,” said Karen Glynn, a Duke University archivist, referring to the 1954 Supreme Court decision that outlawed “separate-but-equal” public schools. He was “a significant photographer of the civil-rights movement.”

An exhibit of Rivera photographs, “Bearing Witness: Civil Rights Photographs of Alexander Rivera,” has been on view at the N.C. Museum of History since January and continues through March. In 1993, Rivera received North Carolina's highest civilian honor, Order of the Long Leaf Pine.