MARTIN LUTHER KING BLVD.
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, I embarked on a series of trips around the country to photograph along
Martin Luther KIng Blvd. 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.
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. But sometimes it's not clear whether the man is being honored or the street.
Are the MLK Food Store and The King, Jr. Hotel named for Dr. King, or are they so-named
because of the name of the street on which they reside? And the question is raised in my
mind: where is the best place to honor a man like King? Should the street run through a
centreal park that is used by everyone, as in Philadelphia; or should the street run through
the neighborhood, as in Chicago and Jersey City? In Little Rock, the street leads to the
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.
I can't help but notice the number of churches and references to Jesus that I find. What
I don't see are people. We've become such a mobile society that I find few people walking
on the streets. But the few people I do meet are enthusiastic about what I'm doing and
eager to point out things to photograph. They aren't concerned that I'm a white woman
photographing their neighborhood.