The Studs Terkel Centenary: Chicago Celebrates Legendary Studs Terkel

The Studs Terkel Centenary: Chicago Celebrates Legendary Studs Terkel

May 16th marks the 100th anniversary of Studs Terkel’s birth and an occasion to memorialize one of the most prolific writers and cultural critics in the history of Chicago letters. As an author, broadcaster and oral historian, legendary Chicagoan Studs Terkel celebrated the lives of ordinary Americans. Some of Terkel’s many friends and fans are hoping to return the favor with a series of events marking the 100th birthday of a man whose work is a chronicle of the 20th century.

The Studs Terkel Centenary, a group headed up by Terkel’s friends, including Chicago Tribune reporter Rick Kogan, on Saturday will rededicate the Division Street Bridge, which was named after Terkel 20 years ago. On Wednesday, The Newberry Library will host a birthday party featuring guest speakers who will share stories about Studs. Terkel’s friends will ensure that his memory lives on with a day of Studs-only programming on WFMT-FM on his birthday, with performances of passages from Terkel’s 2001 book Will the Circle Be Unbroken? at Steppenwolf Theatre next week and by phoning in personal anecdotes about Terkel to a hotline set up by Chicago’s Hull House Museum.

A Tribute: Remembering Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel: The Human Voice (StoryCorps)

Remembering Studs Terkel: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

The New York Times reported that Chicago’s legendary Studs Terkel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose searching interviews with ordinary Americans helped establish oral history as a serious genre, and who for decades was the enthusiastic host of a popular nationally syndicated radio show on WFMT-FM in Chicago, died at his home at the age of 96.

In his oral histories, which he called guerrilla journalism, Mr. Terkel relied on his effusive but gentle interviewing style to bring forth in rich detail the experiences and thoughts of his fellow citizens. For more than the four decades, Studs produced a continuous narrative of great historic moments sounded by an American chorus in the native vernacular.

Division Street: America (1966), his first best seller, explored the urban conflicts of the 1960s. Its success led to Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) and Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974).

Mr. Terkel’s book The Good War: An Oral History of World War II won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. In Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times (1977), Terkel turned the microphone on himself to produce an engaging memoir. In Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession (1992) and Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It (1995), he reached for his ever-present tape recorder for interviews on race relations in the United States and the experience of growing old.

In 1985, a reviewer for The Financial Times of London characterized his books as “completely free of sociological claptrap, armchair revisionism and academic moralizing.” The amiable Mr. Terkel was a gifted and seemingly tireless interviewer who elicited provocative insights and colorful, detailed personal histories from a broad mix of people. “The thing I’m able to do, I guess, is break down walls,” he once told an interviewer. “If they think you’re listening, they’ll talk. It’s more of a conversation than an interview.”

Readers of his books could only guess at Mr. Terkel’s interview style. Listeners to his daily radio show, which was first broadcast on WFMT-FM in 1958, got the full flavor as Studs, with both breathy eagerness and a tough-guy Chicago accent, went after the straight dope from guests like Sir Georg Solti, Muhammed Ali, Mahalia Jackson, the young Dob Dylan, Toni Morrison and Gloria Steinem.

The entire New York Times article can be read here.

Rick Kogan has written a detailed article in The Chicago Tribune, which can be read here.

Studs Terkel’s website at The Chicago Historical Society can be accessed here.

Studs Terkel’s (1970) WFMT-FM radio interview with me (Patrick Zimmerman) can be heard here. Parts of this radio interview later become a selection (pp. 489-493) in Terkel’s acclaimed book, Working:

Audio: Part I of The Radio Interview

Audio: Part II of The Radio Interview

Studs Terkel: Remembering His Life and Times

Conversations about Studs Terkel (2004)

Studs Terkel: About the Human Spirit (2002)

Studs Terkel: The Pioneering Broadcaster

Music Audio: Mavis Staples/Hard Times

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In the Shadows of the Bowery: The Old Bow’ry Fades Away

In the Shadows of the Bowery: The Old Bow’ry Fades Away

When you open the door to a small hotel at 104-106 on the Bowery, you’ll be entering what used to be called the Stevenson Hotel.  A tiny cubicle in the Stevenson was for decades the home to a Greek immigrant named George Skoularikos, perhaps best known for staunchly taking a years-long stand against moving, by eviction or otherwise.  It’s a building that’s been renovated, reconfigured and turned upside down over the generations, always to meet the financial ambitions of the owner of the moment.  Planted like a mature oak tree along an old Indian footpath that became the Bowery, it provides somber testimony to the essential truth of Manhattan: that change is the only constant.

The building dates back at least to the early 1850s, when the Bowery was a swaggering commercial strip of butchers, clothiers and entertainment venues, with territorial gangs that frequently fought one another.  The area used to be home to sometimes rowdy music halls, as well as a series of ethnic theaters.  But the theaters, music halls and small museums built to lure the tourist trade all gradually faded away from the Bowery.

In their place, the Bowery increasingly became the place for men with nowhere else to go, thousands and thousands of them, from war veterans to failed grandiose would-be architects of a new universe.  Large numbers of  the lost souls sought comfort from their dismal feelings of personal defeat in the deadening effects of alcohol and, later, drugs. These abject cast-offs from society found cheap beds, chicken-wire cubicles and brotherhood in the flophouses that masqueraded as hotels.

And the flophouses remained a mainstay of the Bowery for decades, even as wholesale restaurant suppliers and lighting-fixture stores moved onto the street.  However, beginning in the late 1970’s many of the flophouses began to disappear, as the ever-encroaching spread of gentrification claimed loft space and constructed a number of sparkling residential buildings for wealthier residents.

Now, the raucous sounds of a boulevard shadowed by a cinder-showering elevated train track and peopled by swaggering sailors, working-class laborers, fresh immigrants and predatory con men have grown increasingly faint.  In the new urban morning light, the boisterous old sounds have become ghosts receding into the walls.  A new day has dawned on the Bowery.

In the Shadows of the Bowery: The Old Bow’ry Fades Away

Music by Casey Neil/Stevenson Hotel:

Interested readers can learn more about the history of the Bowery, as viewed through a wonderful, colorful narrative about the old Stevenson Hotel in The New York Times here.

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The World of Patti Smith: Dream of Life

Dream of Life: An Intimate Portrait of Patti Smith

A Meditation on Aging and Mortality

Patti Smith: Dream of Life is a film that’s been 12 years in the making, a work that reveals an intimate, impressionistic portrait of a woman who is still blazing her own trail through late middle age, a woman who has seen and suffered great loss and who is perhaps the only major surviving connection from New York City’s Beat generation, to the 1970s Manhattan art scene, to the birth of punk, to the present.  For the most part, the film has been described as a paean to life, resoundingly joyous and elegiac, warm and vibrantly present, a collage of moods and moments from one immensely talented woman’s richly lived time on earth. Patti Smith arrived in the big city 40 years ago and made her first residence in a room at The Chelsea Hotel, which in those days was also home to William S. Burroughs, Jefferson Airplane, Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin, Sam Shepard, Arthur Miller, Robert Mapplethorpe and some of the Warhol crowd. Patti soon became the muse, friend and partner of Robert Mapplethorpe, became a poet, then a performance poet, then an underground rock musician and then a rock star.  She left the stage and the city to settle down in Michigan as a wife and mother. Then, following the 1994 death of her husband, the musician Fred “Sonic” Smith, she returned to New York City, to music, to poetry and to political activism.

Dream of Life is a beautiful and occasionally haunting artistic creation, a meditation on aging and mortality, an intimate study of an unusual kind of fame and the portrait of a genuinely remarkable person. The film was received with great acclaim at The Sundance Film Festival last year, as well as in Berlin and all over the film-festival world.

The videos presented below include a video comprised of  number of vignettes from the longer documentary, the official trailer of Patti Smith: Dream of Life, a short documentary about Patti smith and Robert Maplethorpe, and a video about the Chelsea Hotel.  This piece also presents two photo-galleries.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life

Shot over 11 years by renowned fashion photographer Steven Sebring, Patti Smith: Dream of Life is an intimate portrait of the legendary rocker, poet and artist.  Following Smith’s personal reflections over a decade, the film explores her many art forms and the friends and poets who inspired her, including: William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Robert Mapplethorpe and Michael Stipe.  She emerges as a crucial, contemporary link between the Beats, Punks and today’s music.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life (PBS/POV Trailer)

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe: A Documentary

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe is a documentary short that provides rare glimpse of Patti Smith’s remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe during the epochal days of New York City and The Chelsea Hotel during the late nineteen-sixties and seventies.

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe: A Documentary

Slide Show: Dream of Life

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

Biographic Notes: A Portrait of One Woman’s Rich Life

Patti Smith: The Early Years

Patti Smith was born in Chicago in 1948 and grew up in Woodbury, New Jersey. After graduating from high school, Patti did a brief stint as a factory worker, which convinced her to move to New York City to pursue a life in the arts.  Soon after her arrival, she connected with the young photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she met while working at a book store. This was a close friendship that she maintained until his death in 1989. In 1969 she went to Paris with her sister and started doing performance art.   When Smith returned to New York City, she lived in The Chelsea Hotel with Mapplethorpe, and they began frequenting the then fashionable Max’s Kansas City and CBGB nightclubs.

She helped put New York’s punk-rock landmark CBGB on the map, at a time when New York’s East Village was becoming a burgeoning center of experimental artistic creativity. She organized The Patti Smith Group and in 1975 released her debut album, Horses, to critical acclaim. Produced by John Cale, the album was described as an original mixture of exhortatory rock & roll, Smith’s poetry, vocal mannerisms inspired by Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison, and the band’s energetically rudimentary playing. In 1976, Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas oversaw the Patti Smith Group’s second album, Radio Ethiopia, and the result was a more bombastic guitar-heavy record, tempered by the title cut, the height of Smith’s improvised free rock.  After an almost nine-year hiatus, Smith returned to recording with the 1988 album Dream of Life, the work of a more mellow, but still rebellious songwriter. Smith’s comeback album was co-produced by her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, with songs that included her call-to-arms, People Have the Power.

Grief and Mourning

In 1994, her husband died of a heart attack at the age of 45. Just a month later, her younger brother (and former road manager) Todd, also died of a heart attack. Her longtime friend and companion Robert Mapplethorpe had already died of AIDS in 1989. Determined to carry on as a tribute to the encouragement that her husband and brother had shown her before their passings, Smith performed a string of opening dates with Bob Dylan in late 1995 and issued the intensely personal Gone Again in 1996.  The album offered a potent mix of songs about mourning and rebirth, reflecting Smith’s belief that the beauty of life survives death.

But another eight years would pass by before her second artistic comeback, marked by a trio of acclaimed albums released in quick succession, which found her fighting her way out of a period of intense personal grief stemming from the loss of several of the most important people in her life. The documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and is currently opening in theaters nationwide and in Europe.

Life in The Chelsea Hotel: A Documentary

People are always asking what it’s like to live in The Chelsea Hotel.  Well, it’s not always easy. There are times when you can end up feeling felt like a fly caught in a spider’s web, at risk of being eaten alive if you make the wrong move.

Life in The Chelsea Hotel: A Documentary

Audio: Bob Dylan/Farewell

Slide Show: New York City’s Elegant Dowager/The Chelsea Hotel

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

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Annie Leibovitz: The Legacy of a Photographer’s Life and Times

Annie Leibovitz: The Legacy of a Photographer’s Life and Times

Annie Leibovitz’s Life Has Taken a Sad and Dark Turn

Annie Leibovitz was clearly very unhappy about what a lifetime-achievement award said about her, that the best days of her 40-year career were behind her. Accepting the honor from the International Center of Photography last May, the 59-year-old Leibovitz said, “Photography is not something you retire from.” Photographers, she said, “live to a very old age” and “work until the end.” Then her tone turned rueful. “Seriously, though, this really is a big deal,” she said, hoisting her Infinity Award statuette, her voice quavering to the point where it seemed she might cry. “It means so much to me, you know, especially right now. It’s, it’s a very sweet award to get right now. I’m having some tough times right now, so.…

The 700 friends and colleagues who had come to share the evening with her knew about the “tough times.” She recently had been sued for more than $700,000 in unpaid bills, and in February the New York Times ran a front-page story reporting that in order to secure a loan, Leibovitz had essentially pawned the copyrights to her entire catalogue of photographs. Even those who had known she was in trouble were shocked to learn about the extent of it. Leibovitz was responsible for some of the world’s most iconic magazine covers: a naked John Lennon with Yoko Ono for Rolling Stone, Demi Moore, naked and pregnant, for Vanity Fair. She had moved from celebrity portraiture to fashion photography to edgier, more artistic pictures; some considered her the heir to Richard Avedon or Helmut Newton.

Leibovitz’s life has now taken a decidedly dark turn. Her reference to “tough times” was significantly understated. In the past five years, Susan Sontag and both of Leibovitz’s parents have died. Her debts now total a staggering $24 million, consolidated with one lender with whom she is engaged in a lawsuit and due on Tuesday, September 8th. If she can’t meet that deadline, she may lose her homes and the rights to her lifetime body of photographic work. Friends say that Leibovitz has begun to think of herself less as a celebrity artist leading a charmed life and more as a single mother of three, who is fighting to keep a roof over her head and food on her family’s table. It isn’t surprising, then, that she bristled at the lifetime-achievement award. The fear of no longer working is terrifying to her. She has to work.

Read more about how this has happened to Annie Leibovitz in New York Magazine here.

Biographic Notes: The Life and Times of Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibowitz was born in Westbury, Connecticut, one of the six children born to Sam, an Air Force lieutenant, and Marilyn Leibovitz, a modern dance instructor. In 1967, Leibovitz enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she developed a love for photography. After living briefly on an Israeli kibbutz, in 1970 Leibovitz returned to the United States and applied for a job with the start-up rock music magazine The Rolling Stone. Impressed with Leibovitz’s portfolio, Editor Jann Wenner offered her a job as a staff photographer. Within two years, the 23-year-old Leibovitz was promoted to Chief Photographer, a position that she held for the next 10 years. Her work with the magazine gave her the opportunity to accompany the Rolling Stones band on their 1975 international tour. While with The Rolling Stone, Leibovitz developed her trademark technique, which involved the use of bold primary colors and surprising poses. Wenner has credited her with making many of The Rolling Stone’s covers collector’s items, most notably an issue that featured a nude John Lennon curled around his fully clothed wife, Yoko Ono. Taken on December 8, 1980, Leibovitz’s photo of the former Beatle was shot just hours before his death.

In 1983, Leibovitz left The Rolling Stone and began working for the entertainment magazine Vanity Fair. With a wider array of subjects, Leibovitz’s photographs for Vanity Fair ranged from presidents to literary icons to teen idols. A number of Vanity Fair’s covers have featured Leibovitz’s stunning and often controversial portraits of celebrities. Demi Moore (very pregnant and very nude), Whoopi Goldberg (half-submerged in a bathtub of milk) and her widely controversial photographs of Miley Cyrus are among the most remembered actresses to grace the cover in recent years. Known for her ability to make her subjects become physically involved in her work, one of Leibovitz’s most famous portraits is of the late artist Keith Haring, who painted himself like one of his canvases for the photo.

In 1991, Leibovitz’s collection of over 200 color and black-and-white photographs was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Later that year, a book was published to accompany the show, entitled Photographs: Annie Leibovitz 1970-1990. In 1996, Leibovitz was chosen to be the official photographer for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. A compilation of her black-and-white portraits of American athletes, including Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson, was published in the book Olympic Portraits (1991). Widely considered one of America’s best portrait photographers, Leibovitz also published the book Women (1999), which was accompanied by an essay that was written by her lover, the acclaimed novelist Susan Sontag. With its title subject matter, Leibovitz presented an array of female images from Supreme Court Justices to Las Vegas showgirls, to coal miners and farmers. Currently, many of her original prints are housed in various galleries throughout the United States.

Annie Leibovitz: A Video Photo-Gallery

Music: Bob Dylan/Restless Farewell

Annie Leibovitz: A Photographic Retrospective

A Multimedia Presentation: Leibovitz Talks About Her American Music Photographs

Annie Leibovitz Through Her Own Lens: An Interview

Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens

Annie Leibovitz: Images of Love and Loss

What may be the most controversial aspect of Leibovitz’s book, A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005, is the series of intimate pictures from her relationship with Susan Sontag, and particularly the painful images of the writer when she was seriously ill with cancer. The two first met in the late ’80s, when Leibovitz photographed her for a book jacket. They never lived together, although they each had an apartment within view of the other’s. But their many trips to Paris, Venice, Capri, the Nile, the ruins of Petra in Jordan, are recorded here. Sontag, the author of the award-winning book of criticism “On Photography,” wasn’t easy on Leibovitz. As Leibovitz described it, “She thought I was good—and that I could be better. And I wanted to be a better photographer. She sort of raised the bar and made me feel I needed to take control.” Because of Sontag, Leibowitz went to Sarajevo during the Bosnian war, where she shot such powerful pictures as the one of a child’s bike lying in a road smeared with blood. But Sontag also loved pop culture. When Tina Brown, then Editor of Vanity Fair, seemed to hesitate about printing the pregnant Demi Moore pictures, Sontag called her up to say how great they were. “Susan was so entrenched in life, I couldn’t keep up with her,” said Leibovitz. “She was just bigger than everything.”

Sitting in her Greenwich Village office, wearing jeans and sneakers, Leibovitz explained how Sontag’s death in December 2004, followed only weeks later by the death of Leibovitz’s father, propelled her to make this book. “It totally came out of a moment,” she said. “I had already done some looking at photographs of Susan—that was very hard—for a little memorial book. I had never taken the time to see what I had, really.” She would weep and pin the pictures up on the long walls of an old barn at her country place in upstate New York. “And then, I got very excited, trying to look from 1990 to 2005, as if Susan was standing behind me.” Leibovitz teared up and reached for a box of tissues.

She struggled over whether to publish the few photos from Sontag’s last weeks of life. “They are very tough pictures,” she said. “People have said it’s important to publish them because so much is masked from us about what the end really is.” Leibovitz started to choke up again. “I think Susan would really be proud of those pictures—but she’s dead. Now if she were alive, she would not want them published. It’s really a difference. It’s really strange.” Later, collecting her thoughts, she said, “I’ve been through everything mentally and emotionally, and I’m very comfortable with them. This book is me.”

Most powerful may be the image of Sontag in death, a photograph that evokes a 19th-century memento mori. In counterpoint are the pictures of Leibovitz’s own children. She gave birth as a single mother to her daughter Sarah just after 9/11. Then, a few months after Sontag and Leibovitz’s father died, her twin girls were born, via a surrogate mother. She named one Susan and the other Samuelle, after her dad. “I saw my life with Susan, my life with my family, I saw the birth of my children,” she recalled about looking at all the pictures together. “I was mesmerized by the personal stuff. I just loved it.”

Leibovitz’s book also provides a comprehensive view of the public side of a photographer of legendary ambition and tenacity. Her well-known subjects have described her as a perfectionist who will do almost anything to get the picture she wants. “She has this kind of burning focus,” says Roseanne Cash, who’s been photographed by Leibovitz several time, one time on a beach in Maine in December when it was 3 degrees below zero. “She arrives at a shoot with all these people,” says Mikhail Baryshnikov. “It’s very intense—absolutely intense!” If time allowed, Leibovitz would spend two or three days around a portrait subject first, just getting ideas. Despite the meticulous planning, the perfect image can come out of the blue. For example, Leibovitz’s picture of Jack Nicholson. Whenever she was busy setting up a shot inside his Mulholland Drive house, he’d disappear out back to drive golf balls, and that became the photograph. And believe it or not, she didn’t intend to shoot Bill Gates at his computer, but that’s where she found him when he wandered away from her lights.

It may be her perfectionism that makes Leibovitz question her own work. “I’m not a great studio portraitist,” she says in the book’s introduction. That accolade she reserves for such photographers as Richard Avedon. “His work is a great reminder about trying to be simple and strong,” she says. Avedon knew how to talk to his subjects and “get them animated, or thinking about anything but having their picture taken.”

Leibovitz, on the other hand, likes to look rather than converse. “I’m still learning how to make the portrait more alive,” she says. Early in her career, when she started working for Rolling Stone back when it was based in San Francisco, she might spend days or weeks on the road with a band, taking pictures behind the scenes; but the more formal shots for the magazine’s cover were different. “It wasn’t like life as it was happening—my portraits started to feel like after the decisive moment,” she says, laughing. “I made myself feel a little better by saying it’s the studied moment.” As her magazine work has become more elaborate, Leibovitz seems to long for the feeling of reportage. “It would be nice once in a while to do some Life Magazine real-world imagery instead of making it up all the time,” she says. She cited a favorite shoot with Anderson Cooper in New Orleans after Katrina. “I do work for one of the largest magazine conglomerates in the world [Condé Nast, the publisher of Vanity Fair and Vogue], and they have an agenda for me,” she notes. “I’m trying to work within that and still try to do good work.” In the end, what matters to her most is not any individual picture. “I’ve always thought the strength of my work has been in the body of the work.”

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Solitude: Visual Interpretation of an Epic Song Not Yet Written

Music Audio: Janis Joplin/A Woman Left Lonely:

Solitude: Visual Interpretation of an Epic Song Not Yet Written

Photography by: Joseph O. Holmes, NYC

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Long Journey is Crowned: President Barack H. Obama, 44th President of the U.S.

Long Journey is Crowned: President Barack H. Obama, 44th President of the U.S

Witnessed by an elated, celebratory crowd of more than a million admirers, Barack Hussein Obama marked his place in history as America’s first African-American president. President Obama called for a disheartened country to unite in hope against the “gathering clouds and raging storms” of war and economic woe. At this extraordinary moment in the life of America, people of all colors and ages waited in freezing cold weather for hours on Tuesday to witness a young African-Americn man with a foreign-sounding name take command of a nation founded by slaveholders. It was a ceremonial event watched in fascination by many millions, perhaps even billions of people, around the world.

For the previous three days of pre-inaugural celebrations, President Obama had been cheerful and relaxed. But he was very solemn as he stood on the Capitol steps, placed his left hand on the Bible used by Abraham Lincoln and repeated the inaugural oath “to preserve, protect and defend” a Constitution that had originally defined blacks as only three-fifths of a person. At that moment, deafening cheers went up.

In his Inaugural Address, President Obama remarked that, “We gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.” But he stated that in our present discouraging economic and political climate, “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly….This is the price and the promise of citizenship.”

President Barack H. Obama’s Inaugural Address

The Obamas Leave Their Limo and Walk the Inaugural Parade Route

Music Video: Yes We Can!

Music Audio/The Late Mahalia Jackson Sings Amazing Grace:

http://www.bubbleshare.com/album/492794/mini?interval=8&size=580×435&style=square

Long Journey is Crowned: President Barack H. Obama

Extensive coverage of President Barack Obama’s Inauguration is provided in The Huffington Post, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

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Martin Luther King, Jr: He Marched President Barack Obama into the White House

THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON: “I HAVE A DREAM”

KING’S FINAL ADDRESS: “I’VE BEEN TO THE MOUNTAINTOP”

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING: BIOGRAPHIC NOTES

One of the most visible advocates of nonviolence and direct action as methods of social change, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929. As the grandson of the Rev. A.D. Williams, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church and a founder of Atlanta’s NAACP chapter, and the son of Martin Luther King, Sr., who succeeded Williams as Ebenezer’s pastor, King’s roots were in the African-American Baptist church. After attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, King went on to study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and Boston University, where he deepened his understanding of theological scholarship and explored Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent strategy for social change. King married Coretta Scott in 1953, and the following year he accepted the pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. King received his Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. On December 5, 1955, after civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to comply with Montgomery’s segregation policy on buses, black residents launched a bus boycott and elected King president of the newly-formed Montgomery Improvement Association. The boycott continued throughout 1956 and King gained national prominence for his role in the campaign. In December 1956 the United States Supreme Court declared Alabama’s segregation laws unconstitutional, and Montgomery’s buses were desegregated.

Rosa Parks: The Montgomery Bus Boycott

Barack Obama Speaks at Selma, Alabama

Seeking to build upon the success in Montgomery, King and other southern black ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. In 1959, King toured India in order to further develop his understanding of Gandhian nonviolent strategies. Later that year, King resigned from Dexter and returned to Atlanta to become co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father.

In 1960, black college students initiated a wave of sit-in protests that led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). King supported the student movement and expressed an interest in creating a youth arm of the SCLC. Student activists admired King, but they were critical of his top-down leadership style and were determined to maintain their autonomy. As an adviser to SNCC, Ella Baker, who had previously served as associate director of SCLC, made clear to representatives from other civil rights organizations that SNCC was to remain a student-led organization. The 1961 “Freedom Rides” heightened tensions between King and younger activists, as he faced criticism for his decision not to participate in the rides. Conflicts between SCLC and SNCC continued during the Albany Movement of 1961 and 1962.

In the spring of 1963, King and SCLC led mass demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, where local white police officials were known for their violent opposition to integration. Clashes between unarmed black demonstrators and police armed with dogs and fire hoses generated newspaper headlines throughout the world. President Kennedy responded to the Birmingham protests by submitting broad civil rights legislation to Congress, which led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Subsequent mass demonstrations culminated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, in which more than 250,000 protesters gathered in Washington, D. C. It was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

King’s renown continued to grow as he became Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963 and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded to Dr. King by President Jimmy Carter in 1964. However, along with the fame and accolades came conflict within the movement’s leadership. Malcolm X‘s message of self-defense and black nationalism resonated with northern, urban blacks more effectively than King’s call for nonviolence; King also faced public criticism from “Black Power” proponent, Stokely Carmichael.

King’s efficacy was not only hindered by divisions among black leadership, but also by the increasing resistance he encountered from national political leaders. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s extensive efforts to undermine King’s leadership were intensified during 1967 as urban racial violence escalated, and King’s public criticism of the U. S. intervention in the Vietnam War led to strained relations with Lyndon Johnson’s administration.

In late 1967, King initiated a Poor People’s Campaign designed to confront economic problems that had not been addressed by earlier civil rights reforms. The following year, while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, he delivered his final address, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The following day, April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated.

To this day, King remains a controversial symbol of the African-American civil rights struggle, revered by many for his martyrdom on behalf of non-violence, but criticized by others for his militancy and insurgent views.

Clayborne Carson, Editor
Martin Luther King Biographic Note
Stanford University

CORETTA SCOTT KING

After her husband’s death in 1968, Coretta King emerged as an important activist in her own right. She founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and led the fight to make her husband’s birthday a national holiday. Yet she also was known as a loving mother who reared four children alone. She instilled in them a reverence for the ideals their father espoused, as well as an independence to chart their own courses, even if it challenged long-standing ideals of who or what they should be.

She became an international advocate for peace and human rights. She met with presidents and world leaders and was arrested fighting against apartheid. And well into her 70s, she traveled the globe to speak against racial and economic injustice, promote the rights of the powerless and poor, and advocate religious freedom, full employment, health care, educational opportunities, nuclear disarmament and AIDS awareness.

Coretta Scott King, 78, of Atlanta, died on February 4, 2006, at a holistic hospital in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, about 17 miles south of San Diego. Despite her physical struggles, friends and family members said her last days were painful, she had made a surprise appearance the previous month during The Martin Luther King Center’s annual “Salute to Greatness Awards Dinner” in downtown Atlanta. She was wheeled into the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, triggering an admiring standing ovation. She smiled, waved and kissed family members, but she did not speak. It would be her last public appearance.

A Musical Tribute to Correta Scott King:

On January 31, 2006, National Public Radio broadcast “A Musical Tribute to Corretta Scott King.” To honor Mrs. King’s memory, the program drew upon music from a long-standing tradition in Atlanta. From the 2005 edition of the annual King Celebration concert, the tribute to Mrs. King included Lift Every Voice and Sing, performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the glee clubs of Morehouse and Spelman colleges. The tribute also included a 1998 interview on National Public Radio, during which Mrs. King had reflected upon the importance of music to the Civil Rights Movement.

A Tribute to Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement

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