Half a century after his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains a popular subject of street art in America’s black and low-income urban neighborhoods. Since the 1970s I have documented hand-painted images of the civil rights leader in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit, among other places. I did not originally set out to document these murals and signs; rather, I just happened to keep finding them and photographing them until a collection formed.
My documentation of ghetto neighborhoods is based on re-photography. I ask myself what will happen to a building, to a mural, to an empty lot. Curiosity compels me to return to these sites. A single photograph of mine is a question posed in a world where things fade, are replaced, or destroyed. Sequences, notes, and recollections grow into stories.
Portraits of Dr. King appear on the facades of liquor stores, storefront churches, barbershops, and fast food restaurants. His famous pronouncement, “I have a dream,” often accompanies the image on these walls. He is represented in many ways—as a statesman, visionary, hero, and martyr. Some paintings show him looking proud and thoughtful, with his hand under his chin. While in others, arms outstretched, he projects friendliness and compassion. In group portraits he often takes center stage and is the largest of those depicted.