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Perspective

The MLK Murals of America

Portraits of the slain civil rights leader captured over time give us a view of history from neighborhoods that often go unrecorded.
MLK Jr. mural at Callowhill and 2nd Avenue, Gift of Life, Philadelphia, 2009.
MLK Jr. mural at Callowhill and 2nd Avenue, Gift of Life, Philadelphia, 2009.Camilo José Vergara

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.