February 18, 2008

Moneta Sleet (Courtesy The Associated Press)

Moneta Sleet: Prized Photo Fit for a King

For 13 years, Ebony magazine photographer Moneta Sleet chronicled the key moments in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life.

He was there in 1955 when King organized the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott; in 1964 when King won the Nobel Peace Prize; in 1965 when King led the march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery. And he was there on April 9, 1968, when King was mourned at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, five days after a sniper's bullet felled the civil rights leader.

When King's widow, Coretta Scott King, discovered that the press pool covering her husband's funeral included no black photographers, she sent word: If Moneta Sleet wasn't allowed into the church, there would be no photographers, period.

Sleet took a prime position. "I was photographing the child as she was fidgeting on her mama's lap. Professionally I was doing what I had been trained to do, and I was glad of that because I was very involved emotionally. If I hadn't been there working, I would have been off crying like everybody else."

Sleet's photo of Mrs. King tearfully clasping daughter Bernice won a Pulitzer Prize, making him the first African-American photographer to win the highest honor for news.

Explained Sleet: "I must say, I wasn't there as an objective reporter."

Sleet spent 41 years at Ebony. He died in 1996 at age 70. His story and photograph are featured in the Newseum's News Corporation News History Gallery and Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery.

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