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From the Vault of Art Shay: Remembering Dr. King

By Staff in News on Jan 12, 2011 5:00PM

In order to properly mark the upcoming 82nd birthday of Martin Luther King - who was murdered at 39 - and to commemorate my feelings about the national holiday celebrated in his name, I'd like to show and tell you about my involvement in a few of Dr. King's history-making years.

My war had ended with two atomic bangs and, before their echoes died, along came the whimpers of our discontent. Flipping the calendar pages, as in a bad historic movie, the racial cancer was finally diagnosed around Chicago in 1953. The Nazis in our midst began wearing White Power armbands, the milder racists across the afflicted Republic merely began to (further) exclude Blacks from everything good in our society - houses, jobs, professions, neighborhoods, schools, theaters, the fronts of busses, water fountains. The cancer's first stages were climaxed by the assassinations of JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Then things got worse.

Cameras at the ready, I found myself covering a home-grown war in which, to my horror, I saw the enemy as people like me and my neighbors, but people who thought the whiteness of their skin gave them a better birthright to America than the dark people had. This is a view, despite having a gifted black President, many people still share. They are gradually relocating the troubles we're in to having started on Day One of the Obama term: the terrorists; the plane-bombs; the economy. One politico tentatively moved 9-11 up a few years to coincide with his prejudices, so as to misremember when the Bush reigns came.

It became the job of photojournalists like me and gifted historians like Garry Wills (with whom I covered the murder of Dr. King in Memphis in April 1968) to report what was happening as we watched.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Nelson Algren's Chicago, is also available at Amazon.