Camilo Jose Vergara has given us all a beautiful gift. He has captured murals of Martin Luther King, Jr. from all across the United States. Dr. King lived for the poor. He sought, practicing nonviolence and offering a radical critique of our society, to build a more just world for the poor. Most of my readers here know the details of his life. His public ministry began in Alabama with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, through Selma, Birmingham, and many other places, ending up in Memphis helping the garbage collectors strike for more dignity and just wages. He offered a searing critique of violence, especially military violence used around the world by powerful nations. (The photograph below was taken of a mural in an alley near Avalon Boulevard in Los Angeles.)
Now, photographer Camilo Jose Vergara, known for photographing America’s most poor and isolated communities, has captured murals from all over the United States, which depict Martin Luther King, Jr. TIME magazine has posted many of the photographs here. The murals emerge in all kinds of neighborhoods, but mostly places where people suffer. They are in alleys and on major streets. They look down onto freeways and hide on the backs of industrial buildings. Some show Dr. King with other major figures from history. Some show him with faith figures. These murals serve as icons, tools for memory and meditation. They serve as political statements and laments. (The photograph below was taken in an alley near Frederick Douglass and West 154th Street, Harlem, New York City.)
Some of the murals are painted by professional painters and muralists. Some are painted by neighborhood residents with little or no artistic training. Regardless, what comes through all of them, is the passion and yearning for a better world. It is precisely this passion and yearning which the painters all share with Dr. King himself. No mural lasts forever. But I’m hopeful these murals will last for a long time. We need them. Because we need reminders of the life, work, and message of Dr. King.
The photograph at top was taken on South Central Avenue, Los Angeles, California