Moneta Sleet, Jr.
as Active Participant
The Selma March and the
Black Arts Movement
Taken by Moneta Sleet, Jr. on March 25, 1965, the image of Dr. and Mrs. King leading marchers in Montgomery, Alabama, on the cover of the May 1965 volume of Ebony documents the completion of the Selma to Montgomery March after two failed attempts.1 At the front of the procession and the center of the image, Martin Luther King, Jr. is pictured mid-stride and mid-song, flanked by Coretta Scott King to his left and Ralph Bunche, under-secretary to the United Nations, to his right. Looking determined, Rosa Parks, and Ralph and Juanita Abernathy are positioned to the right of Bunche.2 Although each of the leaders is dressed in a smart suit, their mud-covered casual shoes communicate the arduous fifty-four mile journey they had just completed. Sleet focused attention on King and company through the single point perspective created by the foreshortened asphalt in the foreground and the receding, directional lines formed by the buildings and signs along the street. With locked arms and hands, the leaders appear to be a single unit and larger than life in stature. The supporters in the background are out of focus and blurred, their expressionistic faces and diminished scale reading as a mass that extends backward indefinitely.
As the cover image of the magazine, Sleet's photograph functioned as a symbol of the triumphant nature of the march, and, along with the superimposed, bold-faced and capitalized footer reading, "50,000 March on Montgomery," it announced the twenty-one-page photographic essay inside the volume.3 Moreover, the choice of the preposition "on," instead of "in" or "to," in the title is poignant and telling. It is a militant declaration: 50,000 supporters of the civil liberties of African Americans marched on Montgomery, the capital of Alabama which was understood by the magazine's readership to be "the cradle of the Confederacy" and "the land of the bomb and the bullet…where tiny children are not safe even when attending Sunday School."4