You know the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., but how did he influence the art world? Enjoy this insightful article that highlights how his influence continues today, over 70 years after his death.
Facts You Should Know About Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life, Legacy and Art
“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” – Martin Luther King Jr., 1963, an excerpt from his “I Have A Dream” speech at the March on Washington.
Best known for his dream and advocacy of peace, multiplicity, and equality, which transcends all kinds of people and nationalities — Martin Luther King Jr. and his vision continually resound in the lives and work of others who also dare to dream for a better country and world. Today — artworks, magazines, books and exhibitions, reveal the impact of Dr. King’s life-long fight for equality and freedom which we continue to feel and hear much further today, even over after 50 years after his untimely death.
On January 20th, 2020, we celebrate 52 years of Martin Luther King Jr.’s heroism and his quest for peaceful conflict resolutions, positive social interactions, equality for all people. With the Martin Luther King Jr. facts I’m presenting within this article, let us take a look back at his life and legacy, and moving forward, see how he is still continually influencing artists all over the world.
Who is MLK
Martin (yes, Martin!) Luther King Jr., (“Little Mike”, or MLK as he is famously known for) is a world-renowned hero, preacher, and the top icon of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. He was born on January 15, 1929 as Michael Luther King Jr., named after his father; however both of them had their names changed later on to “Martin”. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia under the influence of the Baptist Church – both his father and grandfather being ministers. This religious and spiritual environment greatly influenced his chosen career path.
He grew up as a black man during some very dark times in our history; at that time, racial discrimination and separation of blacks and whites were still the norm. He attended segregated public schools, mingling only with black communities. Having very strong feelings for justice and defense, he initially wanted to be a lawyer. However, he went on to obtain a doctorate in Systematic Theology in 1955; there, he met Coretta Scott, who would later on become his wife and personal partner in social activism. King and Scott married and had four children – two daughters and two sons. King also became pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta before fully giving his life into the cause.
Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott, 1953
Montgomery Bus Boycott
MLK did not have any ambition of leading any political movement. He wanted to serve the Lord, preach His word, and live peacefully in his lifetime. His rise to leadership started when an African-American woman named Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery city bus on December 1, 1955. This was during the time when blacks and whites had segregations in the bus seats. The whites sat up front, and the blacks at the back. Mrs. Parks sat at the first row for the blacks, but when a white passenger came aboard and the area for the whites was already full, she refused to give up her seat. This led to her arrest, which sparked a year-long boycott of one of the biggest bus companies at the time.
Back then, MLK was a twenty-six-year-old new minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, that became the leaders’ meeting ground for the planned protest. At first, Martin was very hesitant in joining the movement because fighting did not sit well with his morals. After realizing that the movement’s cause was to fight for the right, he joined in and gave it his all.
Thousands of Afro-Americans (and even some whites!) joined in on the boycott. Martin Luther King became the face of this protest; by 1956 a bill passed, preventing the segregation of public buses for the whites and the blacks. This was a tremendous milestone for the civil rights movement. They saw the light of day, and this propelled Martin Luther King Jr. to continue with his advocacy.
From this point on up until the remaining years of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. led a life peaceful revolution, offering his cause to free the oppressed. He dedicated his life to serving the people who are in need, to fight for human rights, and to free people from slavery. Since his Montgomery Bus Boycott protest, he has led thousands of sit-ins, rallies, and suffered from the scorning of some of the biggest and most influential people in America. His home was bombed, his family received death threats, and he was jailed for over twenty times.
Throughout all this, Martin has kept his non-violent resolution and continually fought using only his words, his influence, and sparking the innate goodness in people to stand up for what is right. It is known that Martin Luther King Jr. took his concept of peaceful war from Mahatma Gandhi, who was able to impact the world using only his words, applying the principle of nonviolence on a large scale. Both of them are real-life demonstrations that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
MLK lived through very dark and difficult times in our history. In his lifetime he saw the peak of racism and abuse that followed black people wherever they went. In 1964, after moving to the forefront of the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to establish equal rights for African-Americans. On April 4, 1968, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The site is now home to the National Civil Rights Museum. He is a representation of peace, kindness and patience; and his legacy has triumphed over the whole world and will surely live on beyond him.
His legacy as seen in the art world
MLK found inspiration in poets and writers who had a great understanding about the natural needs and desires of humans. Our need for friendship, fellowship, forgiveness, and acceptance. He was inspired by the lives of the artists who pushed for inclusivity and a non-violent approach in living like John Donne, who is famous for his quote “No man is an island.”; and Leo Tolstoy, who wrote the book “War and Peace” — to name a few.
The artist Ai Weiwei once proclaimed that “art is a very important weapon to achieve human freedom.” This rings is especially true of the art during the civil rights movement.
Given his profound presence on the front lines in the fight for civil rights, it comes as no surprise that the life and death of MLK profoundly influenced works produced by artists and musicians of the 1960s. Let us take a look at some of the great art that was produced through the influence of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr.’s life and non-violent battle for the right.
Ernest Withers, 1968
“One of the most extraordinary and least understood aspects of Dr. Martin Luther King’s leadership was his incisive understanding of the power of visual images to alter public opinion,” says Maurice Berger. He believes the most simple images can deliver an emotional wallop, such as a poster by San Francisco graphic artists that declares in red letters, “I Am a Man.” It was inspired by placards carried by striking black sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968 – the strike that brought King to the city on the day of his assassination.