“We must face the hard fact that many Americans would like to have a nation which is a democracy for white Americans but simultaneously a dictatorship over black Americans,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told a group of politicians — in 1967.
“We must face the fact that we still have much to do in the area of race relations,” continued King, whose statement couldn’t be more prophetic since the pandemic, police and politics of 2020 and 2021 have reignited a light exposing the systemic racism that persists in the US.
As the calendar approaches MLK Day and Americans face a social justice reawakening, the Elmhurst Art Museum will house “In Focus: The Chicago Freedom Movement” from March 4 to June 20. The exhibition features some of the first color documentary photographs taken of King by Bernard Kleina, an 85-year-old photographer, activist and Wheaton resident.
The show’s 32 images provide context for the 1965-’67 movement led by King, James Bevel, and Al Raby, who fought against systemic racism and segregation of the Chicagoland area, and inspired the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
“We believe that art is a powerful tool for change, and our mission as an art museum is always to inspire people to see and think differently through art,” explains John McKinnon, Executive Director of Elmhurst Art Museum. “We are proud to launch a number of events and exhibitions that further important conversations about inequities of the past leading up to today.”
Related programming includes the museum’s complementary exhibition “There is Black Housing in the Future: Equitable Public Housing as Memorial” through May 8; and a virtual group discussion on the Chicago Freedom Movement with participants from the 1966 marches. The free online talk is set for MLK Day, January 18, and can be accessed on elmhurstartmuseum.org.
King’s legacy and philosophy will also be honored through dance, music, spoken word and excerpts from some of his strongest speeches at the 10th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration. Presented by The African American Arts Alliance of Chicago and Black Ensemble Theater, the free online event streams live on January 18 at 6 p.m. on aaaachicago.org and blackensembletheater.org.
Due to the government guidelines around the pandemic, Chicago Sinfonietta has pushed back its annual MLK Tribute Concert to the end of March — which will tie in with King’s historic Selma to Montgomery protest march. For now, Chicago Sinfonietta is sharing video content and online activities celebrating diversity, freedom, and peace.
“These events provide an opportunity for us to delve more deeply into the inspirational words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” says Chief Executive Officer Blake-Anthony Johnson. “We invite you to join us as we celebrate the arc of Dr. King’s legacy, championing the people, and the freedom for all to vote,” adds Music Director Mei-Ann Chen.
This year, the virtual MLK Tribute (now called “The Arc”) premiers online on March 28 at 3 p.m. The program will be available to stream for 48 hours after the premiere. For tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (312) 292-9696.
Image: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. photographed by Bernard Kleina; courtesy of “In Focus: The Chicago Freedom Movement” at the Elmhurst Art Museum.