MARTIN LUTHER KING BLVD.
In 1955, Martin Luther King, Jr. led the first Negro non-violent demonstration. That
382-day bus boycott ended with the Supreme Court declaring that segregation on
city buses is unconstitutional. In 1963, he led the march on Washington where he
told the world that he had a dream. And in 1968, he was assassinated in Memphis,
Tennessee, where he had come to support the garbage workers. Since his death,
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.
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.
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. 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
I wonder how Dr. King would feel about having a hair braiding studio named in his honor.
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.