Weapons of Our Warfare: Martin Luther King, The Gospel of Publicity and Photojournalism
Larry H. Spruill is a senior assistant professor of history at Morehouse College. His 1983 dissertation, “Southern Exposure, Photojournalism and the Civil Rights Movement,” remains a seminal work. During the past 35 years, three Pulitzer Prize-winning authors cited the study research. “Southern Exposure” is currently being rewritten as Weapons of Our Warfare. Dr. Spruill was co-founder and educational director of a special photographic preservation project co-sponsored by the New York State Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission and the New York State Museum. He initiated the Civil Rights Era Educational Database (CREED), a national movement to identify, collect and preserve civil rights photographs. In collaboration with photojournalists Flip Schulke, Bob Fitch and Matt Herron, they identified 10,000 photographs for annotation and electronic storage into a central database. This innovative preservation project provided new research and educational tools for libraries/universities and general public. In each of the past four decades, he has worked as consultant and on-camera authority for major documentaries on civil rights photojournalism, including Eyes On The Prize, the Emmy Award winning definitive visual history of the Civil Rights Movement; the BBC’s documentary Decisive Moments, featuring the dramatic 1963 Birmingham protest photographs taken by Charles Moore, Bob Adelman and Bill Hudson; and Stills Of The Movement, a documentary about the career of the late photojournalist Flip Schulke.
Abstract: The lecture introduces a doctrine coined “The Gospel of Publicity” in which Dr. King used photojournalism and orchestrated dramatic nonviolent conflict as strategic protest weapons. It unveils King’s private views of cameras and photographs as essential tools in the war for racial equality. It illustrates how the modernity of his ideas and photojournalistic media messaging shaped the nation. The “Millennial King” is best remembered for his avant-garde mass media arsenal used to obtain stunning legislative and social reforms. The lecture narrates how King’s mastery of photography and publicity enables digital-age Americans to re-evaluate King not merely as a “Dreamer” but a radical voice for the unfinished goals of the “Founding Fathers” — “to make the world anew.” It highlights select photographs from the Civil Rights canon establishing Martin Luther King as 20th Century America’s premier mass media communicator.