Here is an image of a civil rights photographer named Cecil Williams drinking from a water fountain with a "WHITE ONLY" sign on it.
The image is dated to 1956. The sign appears translucent and the words "WHITE ONLY" appear very professionally lettered. There are no fasteners connecting the sign to the fountain.
This has been posted to Reddit multiple times, and each time there is at least one comment suggesting that the sign is Photoshopped. For instance, from 10 years ago:
The sign looks shopped. Edges are very blurry.
[reply] The photo is a well documented historic photo by renowned civil rights photographer Cecil Williams. The native South Carolinian's body of work forms one of the nation’s most comprehensive photo collections on the civil rights era. He is regularly asked to speak at such universities as Clemson University and Columbia College on this and other famous photos he has taken in his storied career. It is absolutely not shopped.
In 2024, a description of the photo appeared in the book Injustice in Focus: The Civil Rights Photography of Cecil Williams published by University of South Carolina Press. Williams describes the fountain as located at a service station on U.S. Route 21.
Williams explained that the station appeared deserted, and that his fresh experience as a civil rights photographer gave him the idea to get photographed taking a forbidden drink, which seems quite plausible to me. However, my skepticism that a cheap, unmanned service station had such an extremely professional, clean sign on its fountain inspires me to think that the sign may have been Photoshopped in recently to make the photographer's intent more clear. For comparison, here is a real photo of segregation signs on two drinking fountains.
Has the image been manipulated?