In Honor of MLK Day

Wednesday, April 4, marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember that day all too well…Black History Month was celebrated/and continues to be celebrated in February— we use the month to remember the important contributions and achievements of African Americans throughout our nation's history. But for me Black History month is ever-present every month.

British portrait painter, John Simpson, painted “The Captive Slave” in 1827.  The slave trade was still a controversial moral and political issue.  Simpson portraying a heroic image of a manacled man was very bold at the time. Ironically, the model for his “slave” was the free-born son of a lay preacher in New York who would go on to have an  important career on the London stage. 

   John Simpson, “The Captive Slave”, 1827, Chicago Institute

John Simpson, “The Captive Slave”, 1827, Chicago Institute

The entire focus is on the sitter, robed in brilliant red attire, light radiating on his manacled wrists, large and powerful hands, his broad chest, his expressive upward gaze…his gaze tears me to my core…what is he thinking, praying?..is he looking for an answer for help from God?…maybe he is asking God why he has been forsaken?…or is he calmly, with no struggle, relinquishing his mortality, knowing his fate cannot be changed?…his entire being conveys a historical time, and yet transcends time…

This painting has special meaning to me for several reasons. Having grown up in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1960s, I knew all too well what prejudice and segregation was all about. I remember the separate water fountains, take-out windows, seating on buses, the mean, ignorant stares and comments made by my classmates, assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the curfew that was mandatory around the city…none of this sat well with me…I am grateful I had a mom and dad who were open and respectful to all people. They instilled this value in my brothers and me.

And then there was Karine, the Black women who raised me for 13 years as if I were her own. She was family.  She carried herself with great dignity, proud who she was.  She taught me all about heaven, God’s love for me. Most importantly, she simply and unconditionally loved me. Though Karine left this earth and entered those pearly gates she spoke about so often many years ago, she is my angel,  forever walking by my side.

 Karine and me, 1964.

Karine and me, 1964.