Photo: James Karales (American, 1930-2002), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Home with His Family, 1962 (in Kitchen), 1962, gelatin silver print. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase, 2008.38 (detail)
On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray shot and killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Thirty-one years later, in 1999, a jury of six whites and six blacks found the United States government guilty of assassination and wrongful death in the murder of Dr. King in civil court (the full transcript can be downloaded here). Yet the case received virtually no press coverage nor is it taught in most schools, despite the fact that children are given a day off to honor of one of the nation’s most important freedom fighters.
You might ask yourself, Why is that? For the answer, we can turn to the words of Dr. King himself. In Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), he explained, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”
Fortunately, we live in the Information Age, where vast stores of verified facts can be accessed free of charge. We are no longer dependent on the “education” system to teach us how or what to think, what questions to ask, or how to learn. One of the greatest treasures we have today is easy and immediate access to credible sources, delivered straight to our fingertips. We can live the dream in a way Dr. King could never have imagined when he spoke in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Today, Dr. King would have been 88 years old. Tomorrow, we as a nation will celebrate the 31st annual Martin Luther King Day, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. Once again, we are called upon to honor the legacy of a man who was a patriot in the truest sense of the word, fully embodying Patrick Henry’s rallying cry, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
Although Dr. King died at the tender age of just 39, leaving behind a widow and four children, his vision lives on in the speeches, writings, films, and photographs that form a rich tapestry into the timeless wisdom of one of the greatest activists and patriots in American history. Yet Dr. King was more than a national figure: he was a leader across the entire free world. The winner of a Novel Peace Prize, Dr. King’s commitment to freedom and justice sparked movements around the globe, helping to inspire African nations to claim their independence and defeat imperialist foes during the 1960s and ’70s.
In honor of a life and a legacy that continues to move us to this very day, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, presents Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an intimate photography exhibition that takes us inside the King family home and on the road in the fight for full rights and protections under the law. Featuring photographs by Morton Broffman, Steve Schapiro, and James Karales, among others, the exhibition is currently on view through March 12, 2017.
It is upon reflection that we realize in every photograph, we not only see but hear Dr. King, for one of his many glories was his ability to impart the Word as it is described in John 1:1 of the New Testament: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Dr. King’s word transcended all boundaries: race, class, and creed. One need not even believe in God to understand that when he spoke, he was invoking the highest vibration here on earth: the vibration of peace. This vibration, to which all religions and philosophies aspire to connect, is the bridge between the sacred and the profane in the physical realm. Dr. King used the word to reach the heart, mind, and soul at the very same time, allowing us to believe that we, as a nation, might reach the promised land.
“I may not get there with you,” Dr. King understood. Yet, he hasn’t left us either. He comes to us in pictures, in films, in speeches, and books that continue to give voice to the problems that we as a nation face, at perfect pitch and even-temperedness. Dr. King’s grace was in his ability to articulate not only the problem, but the solutions as well. He knew, as Frederick Douglass explained, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Dr. King knew how to create a demand, and he knew we had to be outside the system to create change. Dr. King gave us the blueprint. It is ours to use, as we must.
All photos: Courtesy of High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.