MARTIN LUTHER KING DR.
Martin Luther King, Jr. led the first Negro non-violent demonstration and inspired
people with his dreams of equality and freedom. Since his assassination in 1968,
the Civil Rights Bill has been enacted into law, his birthday has been declared a
national holiday, and cities all over the nation have renamed streets to acknowledge
him. In 2009, with the aid of Google Earth and my GPS, I embarked on a series of
trips around the country to photograph along Martin Luther King Dr. in cities that had
renamed streets to honor the civil rights leader. Like Robert Frank, I traveled the
country recording everyday Americana--not the amber waves of grain or the purple
mountain majesties--but the gray pavements and dusty roads of everyday life.
I avoided those cities in which only a stretch of highway had been renamed in his
honor, looking, instead, for the neighborhoods. I approached the project with no
preconceptions or agenda, wanting only to reveal life on those streets. That life is
evidenced by the signs, storefronts, fences and churches I found there.
In some cities, the street runs through a park or is even a country lane, but most often
the streets are in neighborhoods inhabited by those whose lives were affected most
directly by Dr. King. Often his image, words and name are used as a reminder and
encouragement to the residents. Like Walker Evans, I'm drawn to the signs I find on the
buildings. Sometimes the street is in a neighborhood that has been transformed from an
African-American community to a Hispanic community. The question is raised in my
mind: where is the best place to honor a man like King? Should the street run through a
central park that is used by everyone, as in Philadelphia; or should the street run through
the neighborhood, as in Chicago and Jersey City? In Jackson, Mississippi, the street
leads to the capital building.
All of my memories of the civil rights movement are in black and white. I recall the
newspaper photographs and the newsreels. Even the television news was in black and
white. My photographs are black and white, recalling the imagery from that period.
Although the photographs from the movement are often filled with violence, defiance or
determination, the streets today are mostly quiet.