On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. died after being shot while preparing for a march on behalf of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.
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The impact of King’s death reverberated throughout the country. Half a century later, the Atlanta-born civil rights leader’s dedication to global peace and social justice continues to inspire generations.
At Stanford, hundreds of photos show intimate moments of grief that immediately followed King’s assassination.
The photos are a part of Stanford University Libraries’ Bob Fitch Photography Archive, established in 2013, and are available online for public viewing.
The collection includes about 200,000 images taken by Fitch, an activist and photographer who worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1960s.
Fitch is best known for his work that captured iconic images of major civil rights figures, including King, labor rights leader Cesar Chavez and social activist Dorothy Day.
Almost 3,000 images from the archive have been digitized so far, and the Stanford Libraries’ staff are working on adding additional photos to the online archive.
“All of these photos bring back so many memories,” said Stanford historian Clayborne Carson, who attended the historic 1963 March on Washington. “It was a very turbulent time. Bob Fitch’s photos are invaluable because they provide us a unique window into that period of grief. Viewers see Coretta King in her bedroom as she is grieving for her husband and trying to console her children, while also meeting with his movement colleagues and political leaders.”
Stanford’s ties to Martin Luther King Jr. date to 1964, when the late civil rights leader delivered a speech in Memorial Auditorium.
King gave a second lecture at Stanford, titled “The Other America,” on April 14, 1967, less than a year before he was assassinated. In that speech, he talked about the racial injustice that was at the root of black poverty.
Today, King’s legacy of nonviolence is more relevant than ever in a time of increasing political polarization and tension in the United States and around the world, said Carson, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor and founding director of Stanford’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.
Carson has overseen the preservation and examination of King’s papers since 1985, when the late Coretta Scott King asked him to edit and publish a definitive multivolume edition of her late husband’s speeches, sermons, writings and correspondence.
Through the work of Carson and his colleagues at the King Institute, King’s message of nonviolent activism and collective action is being preserved for future generations.