This is from a snapshot taken of Dr. Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, and their family (clockwise, Dexter (3), Yolanda (8), Bernice (11 months), and Martin Luther King III (6) on the bear rug), taken in their Atlanta, Ga, home, probably in 1964. I love this family and everything they stand and fight for, and have painted many images of Dr. King, including a painting of the whole family at the piano, (in the same house and wallpaper!) during the presidential debates between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton in 2008, when they were both invoking their legacy. That work was entitled “Drum Majors” as from his famous last speech “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” I hope that we all are part of the family of civil and human rights, that with each generation, we can follow the great man’s legacy to fight for justice and civil equality, using the methods of peaceful, non-violence that he inherited from Gandhi. In the too short span of his activism, from 1955 to 1968, he and the civil rights movement were able to change America and the world, however much of what he strove for is currently being threatened in our tenacious times of conservative and fascist, racist leaders and uprisings.
While painting this work, I listened to the Clayborne Carson books of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Martin Luther King Jr. on Leadership, The King Years by Taylor Branch, YouTube videos of his speeches, and wonderful YouTube videos of Coretta Scott King’s interviews and speeches. Obviously, Dr. King is a giant, and from children in grade school to seniors in homes, amateur and professional artists all around the world have and continue to depict the great man, and this portrait of he and his family are just one grain of sand in a sublime beach of humanities homages to their hero. I was born in 1966, and he and his work have permeated wonderfully my existence through my life, and I know that personally I wouldn’t be the same person, enjoying my interracial marriage with my (Latino and part Indigenous) husband without his enormous influence and power for change. He was a fantastic orator, and his glorious speeches are incredibly moving still today, and gave me hope and courage during the painting of this work in. Also, the eloquent Coretta Scott King gave me edification—listening to her autobiography of her and her family gave me further insight to their home life—that was also threatened by Klansmen, their home bombed, etc., during the time of this photo, and her and her children’s enormous courage as the stood by their father and husband during his long battles for justice.
In this home, there was this fantastic wallpaper, of an ornate floral theme that for me was a talisman to the terrific energy surrounding them, and almost heavenly realm that swirled surrounding them, almost as if they were Serafin angels alit in another cosmic dimension. This was a snapshot, that had been thumbtacked (and torn), the thumbtack became like a brilliant light—sun or moon—beaming in the ether surrounding them. I paint expressively, but as Ms. King had mentioned to her husband, to always make sure that his actions and words were geared towards the greater good beyond himself and towards justice, I hope that as much as my unconscious mind might be driving my brush along with my conscious observations looking at this blissed out, patinaed-in-time Kodachrome snapshot, that I pay homage to the man and the family more than any expressionist zeal that was inspired by them and the movement.
While living, Coretta Scott King was an activist with the Women’s Movement, in addition to civil rights, and founded the King Center, and also fought against apartheid and for LGBTQ rights. She originally was a singer, and while painting I also listened to her and the gospel of their favorite singer Mahalia Jackson and the incredible music and spirituals of William L. Dawson, that also gave me solace. King’s surviving children continue to work to bring their father’s message of racial equality and nonviolent resistance to the world. Together, they’ve switched off as leaders of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and have spoken out on important issues, including racial injustice, gun control, and climate change, and Yolanda Renee King moved the nation recently at just 9 years old, giving her own “I have a dream that enough is enough,” speech at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington D.C., in 2018 protest demanding gun control.
If Rosa Parks hadn’t demanded her own agency when asked to move from her seat, the Montgomery Bus Boycott that began in 1955 might never have had called upon the Baptist minister Dr. King as it’s leader and to begat his role, however his genius would have found its way. He was a saint who sacrificed all for what he believed in, but also with the love of his family supporting him was able to move the mountains that he did. It’s important to remember just how radical he was—opposing the Vietnam war when this was a hugely unpopular move, and for his activism and leadership that extended to all human rights, against fascists of Capitalism, and his major “Poor People’s Campaign” that strove to create “a multiracial army of the poor”. He was ultimately assassinated when he was protesting on the behalf of black Memphis sanitation workers, and never rested his engagement with fighting for the agency of all kinds that are suppressed through Capitalism and the extreme domineering white, straight patriarchy. He and the movement set the wheels in motion for what I hope continues to be a soft revolution, working towards the freedom and agency happiness of all peoples. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most major influences on my personal life and ideology—his philosophy helps to guide me every day in my humble missions as a Chair, teacher, and artist.