All posts in “Dr. Martin Luther King”

SAM Connects Art to Social Justice with Tours

Every January, SAM honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a week of spotlight tours led by museum staff, focused on artists and artworks currently on view in SAM’s galleries that speak to themes of race and social justice. Free and open to the public, the tours are also a big draw for SAM administrative staff, who step away from their desks on the fifth floor and head down to hear from one of their colleagues. Grounded in a love for, and knowledge of, the collection, the tours are often deeply personal, as the speaker finds resonances in the art with their own experiences of race and social justice.

Since launching the series in 2015, there have been many memorable tours. In 2017, Public Engagement Associate David Rue danced his tour in front of Robert Colescott’s Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas, a major work by the Black artist that had been recently been brought into the museum’s collection. He moved to the sounds of The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” simultaneously celebrating the increased visibility of Black artists and wondering whether it was just lip service—or the beginning of a new future of true equity.

Actress and performance artist (and SAM Visitor Services Officer) Adera Gandy led a tour in 2018 that visited the current show Lessons from the Institute of Empathy. Anchored by an immersive installation by contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk, the show includes works selected by the artist from SAM’s African art collection. Adera focused on Fulani and Ghanaian gold jewelry, reminding us that just as practitioners of alchemy attempted to find a universal elixir by turning base metals into gold, we must work towards equity not only with external steps—measurable policies and practices—but with internal shifts to transform the collective mind and create authentic and sustainable change.

In 2019, Social Media and Communications Coordinator Nina Dubinsky visited the current installation Body Language and discussed Akio Takamori’s ceramic sculpture Willy B. It’s inspired by a famous 1970 photo of German Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeling down and silently bowing his head at a monument to the thousands of Poles killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Nina connected Takamori’s interest in this evocative gesture as a political statement to her generation’s use of social media to unite in social movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #TransRightsMatter, and #MuteRKelly.

Also this year, we expanded the series beyond staff to include tours by Dr. Cherry Banks, a SAM trustee and Professor in Education Studies at the University of Washington Bothell, and Celeste Ericsson, a SAM docent who participates in the SAM docent corps’ Equity Working Group. The Art and Social Justice Tours continue to change the way we all experience the works in our collection. Including more perspectives only deepens their impact. Join us next year when we continue this tradition of honoring the radical and loving legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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Object of the Week: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after Delivering His “I Have a Dream” Speech

This black and white photograph, taken by photojournalist Dan Budnik in 1963, is one of a series that Budnik had hoped to publish in a Life magazine photo-essay. His subject is none other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., photographed minutes after delivering a speech that would forever be defined by four indelible words: “I have a dream.”

The image is unrelenting is its focus, framing Dr. King’s face so that he takes up over half of the composition. King, glancing down and to the side, bears a calm demeanor—stoic and pensive. Surely he would have been surrounded by a large group of friends and colleagues, or even a crowd of fellow activists, but Budnik denies us any context in which to situate King. Without the title of the photograph, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after Delivering His “I Have a Dream” Speech, August, 1963, we would have no way to know that this image portrays him after one of the most important speeches in American history.

King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is arguably his most famous, but in the spirit of honoring his legacy and rhetorical dynamism, I share below an excerpt from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, given one year after this photograph was taken, in 1964.  King’s continued call for racial equity, social justice, and religious tolerance—delivered with unfettered optimism—is, I believe, an urgent and important message for our present time:

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “is-ness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “ought-ness” that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today’s motor bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. . . .

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collection & Provenance Associate

Image: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after Delivering His “I Have a Dream” Speech, August 1963, 1963, Dan Budnik, gelatin silver photograph, 11 x 14 in., Gift of Getty Images, 2000.34 © Artist or Artist’s Estate
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Migration Series: Cindy Bolton

A Father’s Dream

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream: to live in an America where all people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

I’d like to tell you about the dream of a man who made the best of what Dr. King, and many other civil rights leaders, worked for throughout the history of our great nation. It begins with the dream of this man’s parents. This man’s father was born in Mississippi in the early 1920s, grew up there, and attended the best schools available for a Negro. He had a typical life for a Negro boy. He met a lovely young lady when he became a man and eventually married her.

The war was on, so he enlisted in the Army and went off to serve his country. While in the Army, he guarded German POWs and had the chance to serve in several parts of this country. One assignment took him to Sioux City, IA. While he was there, he had a chance to observe the school system. Though he had received the best education a young Negro could get in Mississippi at the time, he quickly realized that “separate but equal” education systems in the South were indeed separate, but far from equal. He made up his mind at that point that his children would be given a chance at a better education than he had received and a better chance to realize the American Dream.

At the end of the war, he and his wife left all they knew and loved—family, friends, loved ones—and moved north to Sioux City, IA and then across the Missouri River to South Sioux City, NE because it had only one school system, totally integrated and with high standards.

There this man’s parents raised a family of six: four boys and two girls.

The oldest of these was a son who, from the very earliest stages of life, dreamed of flying. He read books about flying, he made drawings of futuristic flying craft, he built models, and he studied to become a pilot. His father had never been a pilot. In fact, no one in the family had ever flown. However, his father and mother constantly encouraged him and all the children to follow their dreams. The children were taught that they were as good as anyone else and that hard work, persistence, and good will towards others would ultimately make their dreams a reality. That spirit was also all around them in their small Nebraska town. That spirit was in their school, and that spirit was in their church. No one ever said, “No you cannot do that because you are a Negro.” Instead, he was taught and he was told, “Yes, you can!”

That son went on to be an A student and honor student in high school. He was an honor student in college. He was the first to solo and get his pilot’s license in ROTC. He graduated with an Air Force commission and honors. He went on to graduate in the top 1% of his pilot training class where he was the only African American pilot. He went on to become a distinguished Air Force fighter pilot, combat pilot, test pilot, instructor, and a successful program manager before retiring as a two star general. He then became the first African American Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

That man, who owed so much to another man’s dream, was my father. He worked hard and was able to accomplish a great many things because of the sacrifice his mother and father made to uproot themselves from all that they knew and journey north for a better life. The selfless decision my grandparents made more than seventy years ago continues to bear fruit. Their legacy lives on, in the encouragement my sister and I received—that we could do anything and be anything—and which we now pass down to our own children.

When given opportunity and encouragement, immigrants have done wondrous things for their communities, for the country and for the world. As my grandparents’ example shows, immigration is not only between countries, but also between regions within a country where dreams and the potential for a better life burn brighter elsewhere. To willingly give up all that you have known for a chance for a better tomorrow is the American Dream, and this spirit endures.

– Cindy Bolton, Chief Financial Officer

Inspired by Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, Seattle Art Museum’s Equity Team and staff has shared personal stories of immigration, migration, displacement, and community. The Migration Series is now closed and we leave you with this perspective from our Chief Financial Officer to consider how our personal histories connect to the larger histories that define us all.

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