On September 3, 1958, Martin Luther King, Jr., arrived at the courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama, to attend the trial of a man accused of assaulting King’s friend and mentor, Civil Rights Leader Pastor Ralph David Abernathy. King was prevented from entering the courtroom by two police officers.
When he told officers he would wait outside, they arrested him, twisted his arms behind his back and pushed him down the street to the police booking station. The charge was “floating”.
This was not the first or last occasion King would be taken into custody. He was arrested dozens of times throughout his life: in 1956, along with Rosa Parks and many others, while organizing the Montgomery bus boycotts; in 1960, during a sit-in at a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia; in 1963, along with Abernathy, for having demonstrated without permission (from his cell he wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail”).
In this particular case, King’s arrest was captured by photojournalist Charles Moore, an admirer who would become an influential chronicler of the civil rights movement. Years later, Moore said, “I did not know at the time that my pictures could make a difference, but I knew this man would make a difference.” His pictures from the day that ran in Life magazine and in newspapers around the world, provided inspiration for Ronald Wimberly’s cover for the magazine’s issue of January 17, 2022. We recently spoke with the artist about artistic collaboration and how he translates the tools he uses in comics into other areas.
You have mentioned that you draw inspiration from sources, including Emory Douglas, who in 1967 joined the Black Panther Party as Minister of Culture; pop artist Andy Warhol; and the abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell. How do you reconcile the divide between artists who, at least at first glance, seem so different?
Warhol and Douglas’ drawings and their practices were not so far apart; both were newspaper men. Douglas is a phenomenal illustrator – a framed copy of his portrait of LeRoi Jones [Amiri Baraka] looking down at me as I write this. Warhol was also a great illustrator. Both artists use solid color blocks and patterns that connect them to Motherwell, especially with his collages.
You are known for LAAB, a broadsheet magazine with comics and essays. Do curatorial works by a variety of artists and writers help or hinder your own work?
LAAB is my job – and it feels good to tease that self-limit by collaborating. LAAB has kept me in comics for the last few years. I would have stopped completely without it. It is the fuel and the substance and also a social effort that I appreciate.
You started as a writer, cartoonist and illustrator before expanding into animation. Do you find that your roots in comics and graphic novels help you tackle multiple collaborative projects?
Luis Camnitzer, who was at the forefront of nineteen-sixties conceptualism, said something about how different disciplines are channels for him to express how he thinks as an artist. My roots are in thinking. Writing, drawing and watching – tools that are useful in cartoons – are also useful in filmmaking and in any kind of art practice.
For more covers on Martin Luther King, Jr., see below: