On April 4, it will have been 50 years since Baptist minister, civil rights leader and Southern Christian Leadership Conference President the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.
And with that historic marker will come the 50th anniversary of King’s funeral, held in Atlanta and attended by an estimated 200,000 mourners over four days. To mark the occasion, the Atlanta History Center is opening a photo exhibit, “Weeping May Endure for a Night: The Funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” on Saturday at the Margaret Mitchell House at Atlanta History Center Midtown. (The Margaret Mitchell House is several miles away from the main campus, which is on West Paces Ferry Road.)
“These images resonate across time, and they reveal the special relationship that Atlantans had with Dr. King — a native son,” said Calinda Lee, the Atlanta History Center staff historian most involved with the organization of the exhibit. “The photos capture Atlantans’ personal and visceral sense of loss and connection to Dr. King and his work.”
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The 25 photos on display have never been shown together as a group. They were shot by Chicago-based freelance photographer Declan Haun, a highly regarded photojournalist of the era whose work appeared in Life, Newsweek and The Saturday Evening Post, among other publications. Along with the civil rights movement, Haun covered presidential campaigns and political conventions during a distinguished career. He died at age 56 in 1994.
“My pictures are not very complex,” Haun is quoted as saying. “I try to make them simple statements of fact or feeling.”
Riots broke out across the United States in those early spring days of 1968, but not in Atlanta. Haun’s photographs depict a broad range of peaceful scenes, from an enormous crowd marching through downtown, to images of pallbearers including Jesse Jackson and Ralph David Abernathy, to an intimate moment between King’s parents, who attended together.
King was just 39 at the time of his assassination. Lee and her co-curator, Atlanta History Center Deputy Mission Officer Jessica VanLanduyt, noted how young most civil rights leaders were at the time. Many were only in their 20s or early 30s, and many are still living today.
Among those is former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who was directly involved in the exhibit and helped to identify mourners in several of the photos.
“(Young) said, ‘This is my life story. This is Atlanta’s life story,’” said VanLanduyt.
The co-curators interviewed several other funeral attendees in advance of the exhibition, including many who were children at the time and still vividly recall emotions they experienced at the funeral.
Just as striking are small details found in the photos — fashion from the late 1960s, the look of storefronts and buildings, vintage cameras seen in the hands of attending photojournalists from across the country.
The exhibit is located in a room to the side of the main Margaret Mitchell House, and will run until Nov. 4.
After King was killed in Memphis, a ceremony was held for him there before his body was airlifted to Atlanta, where the funeral procession ran from Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College.
The title, “Weeping May Endure for a Night,” refers to the exhibition’s first image, of an unnamed mourner fighting tears.
“This was a huge event for the city,” said Lee, “and a personally felt loss for Atlantans.”
“Weeping May Endure for a Night: The Funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
March 31-Nov. 4. $13; seniors and students, $10; children (ages 4-12), $5.50; children 3 and under, free. Margaret Mitchell House at Atlanta History Center Midtown, 979 Crescent Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-249-7015, atlantahistorycenter.com/explore/destinations/margaret-mitchell-house.