Under the inspired leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., non-violent protest became the defining feature of the modern civil rights movement in America. A brilliant strategist, King first demonstrated the power of passive resistance in 1955, while helping to lead the prolonged bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, that succeeded in the dismantling bus segregation laws. Fresh from the victory that brought him national recognition; the charismatic King cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and took the lead in directing its civil rights initiatives. In a carefully orchestrated campaign of peaceful protest to expose and defeat racial injustice, King awakened the nation’s conscience and galvanized support for the landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960s. King’s words were as powerful as his deeds, and the moving and eloquent addresses that gave hope to millions continue to inspire people throughout the world.
This exhibition marked the 50th anniversary of the “March on Washington” and King’s stirring “I Have a Dream” speech. Through historic photographs, prints, paintings, and memorabilia—chosen principally from the Portrait Gallery’s extensive collection—this one-room exhibition traced the trajectory of King’s career, from his rise to prominence as the leader of the national civil rights movement to his subsequent work as an anti-war activist and advocate for those living in poverty.
The curator of this exhibition was National Portrait Gallery curator of photographs, Ann Shumard.