Introduction: In the following assemblage, the words of James Baldwin are taken from his essay ‘The Dangerous Road Before Martin Luther King’, published in 1961, seven years before Dr. King’s death. Dr. King’s own words are taken from his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’, which he penned in 1963 while jailed for leading nonviolent demonstrations in response to racial segregation and inequality in Alabama. The photographs you see were all taken by Bruce Davidson from the years 1961 to 1965. The words of Elizabeth Hardwick are taken from her essay ‘The Apotheosis of Martin Luther King’, published on 9 May 1968, thirty-five days after Dr. King was assassinated.
I wanted to ask him how it felt to be standing where he stood, how he bore it, what complex of miracles had prepared him for it. But such questions can scarcely be asked, they can scarcely be answered.
At the end of his life, King seemed in some transfigured state, even though politically he had become more radical and there were traces of disillusionment—with what? messianic hope perhaps. He had observed that America was sicker, more intransigent than he had realized when he began his work.
There is even a coldness in his public character, an impenetrability and solidity often seen in those who have given their entire lives to ideas and causes.
Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.