Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, the second child of Martin Luther King, Sr, a pastor, and Alberta Williams King, a former school teacher. He grew to be, arguably, the most recognized participant in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In 1964, he became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He is honored by all who believe, as he did, that, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Of her commission to create a body of work depicting moments of Dr. King's life focusing on his spirituality, artist Marlena Hebenstreit remarked:
Painting Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a daunting task. How could I bring to life a man whose story had been told a million times, who fathered the civil rights movement, who gave his life for racial equality? I spent a lot of time soul searching throughout this project. I wondered if I was really up to the task. “Should I be painting one of the most famous Civil Rights leaders in history?
"Then, in some fantastic way, I began to build a relationship with King. Looking into his eyes, in hundreds of black and white photographs, I could see his joy, his courage, and the stress that came with the burden of caring so deeply. Getting to know King, I became inspired with ideas of how to portray him. I felt like I had his support, like he was cheering me on, giving me courage to depict his story through the gift of my art."
Background re: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister, and the most recognized leader of the American Civil Rights Movement until his assassination on April 4, 1968. Throughout his adult life he championed nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as means of protest toward Civil Rights abuses, primarily of African American Citizens. His influence using these techniques carried over to poverty, segregated housing, and Vietnam war issues, and resulted in being arrested multiple times. He was the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), organizing it, and unsuccessfully engaging it in a struggle against segregation in 1962 in Albany, GA. He helped organize the nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. He alienated many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled "Beyond Vietnam". J. Edgar Hoover considered him a radical and made him an object of the FBI's COINTELPRO from 1963 on. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, and reported on them to government officials. On one occasion King was mailed a threatening anonymous letter, which he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.
King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington was rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.