Martin Luther King, Jr., c. 1968
Lithograph, 28” x 21 ½”
Born in Lithuania, Ben Shahn emigrated to the United States in 1906 at the age of eight. Known as a painter, printmaker, and photographer, his work was often inspired by current events. In 1932 Shahn established his career by creating a series of paintings based on the Sacco and Vanzetti trial and execution.
Ben Shahn’s work continued to be concerned with political and social themes throughout his career. Originally commissioned as a cover for Time magazine in 1965, his portrait of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was part of a portfolio of prints created for the American Civil Liberties Union, which focused on civil rights. The portfolio was then sold to raise funds for the civil rights movement.
In this powerful portrait, Shahn has integrated part of the text from the famous speech “I’ve been to the mountaintop” by Dr. Martin Luther King with the image. Dr. King delivered the speech in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated.