The lights in the small room at the corner of the hallway shine on the faces of more than 50 people. They sit motionless without saying a word to each other.
But their words have been recorded in history for altering social perspectives, leading the nation and impacting the world.
The Florida International Museum in St. Petersburg is recognizing these people, who were named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year in years past. The exhibit will run until Oct. 27.
The exhibit celebrates the 75th anniversary of the magazine’s selection of people known for actions, that influenced people and events throughout each year’s duration.
Such selections for this annual series, such as dictator Adolf Hitler in 1938, sparked a controversy among Americans.
Readers raised the question of why a person who was responsible for millions of deaths was given such a title.
And like this past year when TIME considered naming Osama bin Laden as Person of the Year, editors had to explain to Americans that the title was not an award.
Editors for TIME have defended their decisions on numerous occasions, stating that persons are chosen based on the actions they have done “for good or ill.”
While viewing replicas of the 75 year’s worth of magazine covers on display, Theron White said he remembers when some of the selections were made, such as Pope John XXIII in 1962.
“I’m not Catholic, but I can’t remember anyone else being so influential,” White, 54, said. “We had all these issues with Vietnam, and here was a leader who could tell you how peace on Earth could come about.”
Another significant voice in U.S. history was Martin Luther King Jr.’s in 1963.
In the midst of the Civil Rights movement, King was selected by TIME as the Man of the Year for his speeches and demonstrations that gathered a significant number of supporters, such as the near 200,000 people who participated in the March on Washington.
Maria Cardozo, who is originally from Colombia, came with White from Fort Myers to tour the exhibit. Cardozo, 57, said the publication presented significant information to her throughout the years, and the exhibit retells those stories.
“I’m beginning to appreciate it more now,” Cardozo said. “I sometimes wonder why that person was chosen. But we won’t go into some of the politicians that were chosen.”
The annual series for TIME magazine began with Charles Lindbergh in 1927 for his journey from Long Island to Paris in a single-engine plane that amazed Americans.
It wasn’t until 1999 that TIME started using the gender-neutral term, “Person of the Year.”
Some people were chosen multiple times such as presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.
TIME also expanded the series to recognize groups of people such as U.S. scientists. And in 1982, when the advance of technology developed the computer, the magazine named it “Machine of the Year.”
Windy Crowder, a museum spokesman, said the exhibit, which began Sept. 12, has been especially popular among those who have an interest in history.
Crowder said visitors seem to enjoy discussing whether some people deserved to be selected.
With former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani being the most recently recognized Person of the Year over bin Laden, Crowder said he is not sure if the right motives were used to choose Giuliani.
“Certainly both at that time had an impact on the world,” Crowder said. “But I think the decision was backed up politically because there would have been a disaster among readers.”
Contact Grace Agostinat firstname.lastname@example.org