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Martin Luther King and the American Civil Rights Movement in Visual Culture Monographs

A bibliography of titles in the Libraries on Martin Luther King, Jr. created by Amber Thiele can be accessed as an electronic resource (opens as PDF).

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leaning on a lectern, from Wikipedia.

Among other works on Dr. King, Jr. the American Art/ National Portrait Gallery Library holds three important monographs that provide historical references to the American Civil Rights Movement:

Gary Chassman created the anthology In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. with the cooperation of the Martin Luther King. Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. It was published for the occasion of the traveling exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service of the same name. The 223 page work on the visual culture of the American Civil Rights Movement features over 130 works of art by more than 100 artists ranging from self-taught through academically schooled. In addition to large scale illustrations the work also contains commentaries from such scholars as Bernice Johnson Reagon, a MacArthur Fellowship recipient and Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution.

In her contribution “Freedom Songs and Singing: The Unbreakable Bond between African American Songs and Struggle” she writes:

From 1944 to 1965 the equilibrium of American society was racked by waves of social and political protest. Black people engaging in massive civil disobedience served notice on the nation and the world that they would no longer tolerate the abuses of American racism …The response was swift and brutal: economic reprisals, jailings, beatings and killings. Nonetheless, the Movement grew, pulling recruits from all segments of the black community and forcing change in legal, political, and social processes … As a singer and activist in the Albany Movement, I sang and heard the freedom songs, and saw them pull together sections of the black community at times when other means of communication were ineffective. It was the first time that I experience the full power of song as an instrument for the articulation of our community’s concerns …

The other two monographs depict the American civil rights activities through historic photos. The editor and author of the books, photojournalist Flip Schulke, spent years covering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement working for the magazines Ebony, Jet and Life. Schulke first met the minister when they were both in their twenties and a fast friendship formed which would last until the assassination. Published in 1976, Martin Luther King, Jr. A Documentary … Montgomery to Memphis is a valuable reference with text including:

  • introduction by Coretta Scott King
  • chronology of the life Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • interview with Rosa Parks
  • photos of sit-ins, freedom rides, demonstrations, bombings and shootings
  • assassination of Medgar Evers
  • mourners of civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwern
  • complete texts of some of King’s famous speeches including: “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” “I Have a Dream,” “Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech,” “The Drum Major Instinct,” and “I Have Been to the Mountaintop.”

Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (ca. 1955), from Wikipedia

This book quotes Martin Luther King who was pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church at the time of Rosa Parks’s courageous action:

“… Actually, no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, ‘I can take it no longer.’ Mrs. Parks’ refusal to move back was her intrepid affirmation that she had had enough. It was an individual expression of a timeless longing for human dignity and freedom. She was not ‘planted’ there by the NAACP, or any other organization; she was planted there by her personal sense of dignity and self-respect. She was anchored to that seat by the accumulated indignities of days gone by and the boundless aspirations of generations yet unborn. She was a victim of both the forces of history and the forces of destiny. She had been tracked down by the Zeitgeist—the spirit of time …”

In his second photojournalist documentary published in 1995 Flip Schulke adds new photos of the pastor and the Civil Rights Movement while reproducing some of his famous ones from his earlier work. With advances in publishing during the nineteen years separating the two works, the photos in the second book appear clearer with defined details and greater gradation of tone. In the second work Flip Schulke writes an explanation of the bond he forged with Martin Luther King, Jr.:

… He said that very little of what his new group, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), was involved in was being photographed. I told him that a photographer had to be on the scene of an event before it happened in order to photograph it. … Dr. King and the SCLC had kept their plans for nonviolent marches and demonstrations as secret as possible, so that neither the Klan nor local law enforcement authorities would disrupt the demonstration before it began. I suggested he phone me directly if he wanted me at demonstration, and we exchanged home telephone numbers. He began this direct relationship in very small ways, until he could trust me to keep dates and times of demonstrations in confidence … Outside of my immediate family, his was the greatest friendship I have ever known or experienced. The mutual trust grew and grew. A trust that I never abrogated. A trust that he showed in many ways in the ten years that followed. Martin Luther King, Jr.—my friend.’


Alice Clarke, American Art/ National Portrait Gallery Library

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born January 17, 1929. The U.S. observes his birthday on the third Monday in January, this year coinciding with his actual birthday, as a federal holiday.


Chassman, Gary. In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Atlanta, GA: Tinwood Books, 2002, ISBN 0965376656, CT275.K53 C53 2001 (Front Jacket Art: Study for Sculpture of Martin Luther King, Jr., by John Wilson, 1985)

Schulke, Flip, ed. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Documentary… Montgomery to Memphis. Toronto, Canada: George J. McLeod Limited, 1976. ISBN 0393074870, CT275.K53 S38m 1976

Schulke, Flip. He had a Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 1995, ISBN 0393037290, CT275.K53 S38 1995


  1. martin was a great man in the history!!

  2. Stefanie

    I agree wholeheartedly. I was able to visit his church that he preached at some years ago. We listened to a few of his sermons on the tour. I was just at awe at how eloquently he spoke. A pity he had to leave the earth the way he did.

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