Coretta Scott King and her daughter Bernice, 5, are shown April 9, 1968, attending the funeral of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Atlanta, in this Pulitzer-prize winning file photograph taken by Moneta J. Sleet, Jr., the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize for photography. (AP Photo/Moneta J. Sleet, Jr.)
Photo: MONETA J. SLEET, JR.
Photo: MONETA J. SLEET, JR.

Kentucky State graduate was the eyes of black America

Moneta Sleet Jr. chronicled black life for Ebony for four decades

Of all of the graduates of Kentucky State University’s thousands over more than 100 years, it might be safe that few have seen more than Moneta Sleet Jr.

Sleet is regarded as one of the most important photographers of the last century and won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for his 1968 photograph of Coretta Scott King holding a mournful Bernice King at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.

It was providence. Before the funeral, Sleet was not allowed inside of Ebenezer Baptist Church, because he was not selected to be in the photographer’s pool.

When Coretta Scott King found out, she said that no photographers would shoot her husband’s funeral of Sleet wasn’t allowed in.

Sleet was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 1926 and worked as the editor of his high school newspaper, before enrolling at KSU, where he graduated cum laude in 1947.

He got his masters at New York University in 1950 and went on -- along with the likes of Gordon Parks – chronicle black America. First as a sportswriter for the Amsterdam News in New York City.

Then, in 1955, he got a job at Johnson Publishing in 1955, where he shot for the venerable Ebony Magazine and Jet Magazine, capturing, among others Muhammad Ali, Stevie Wonder and Billie Holiday. He also shot the funeral of Malcolm X.

He built a lasting friendship with King and traveled to Oslo in 1964 to cover his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Sleet worked at Johnson Publishing until his death in 1996 at the age of 70.

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