Saturday, January 4, 2014

One Life: Martin Luther King Jr.

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through June 1, 2014

I'm sure I've praised the Portrait Gallery's One Life series before, but I'm going to do it again.  It's a one-room show that focuses entirely on one person, prominent in American life.  I've seen shows on Thomas Paine, Elvis Presley, Ronald Reagan, Katharine Graham and now, Martin Luther King.

Obviously, you can't have an in-depth display of someone in only one room, but they do an admirable job of covering the highlights of each person's life, from childhood through death.  It really is very well done, and I look forward to many more of these exhibits in the years to come.

There's very little that I can say about Martin Luther King that's terribly new or interesting, but I was struck while at the show by how easily the civil rights movement could have turned into a violent conflict.  Thanks to King, that didn't happen.  Surely, the temptation must have been great at times, but throughout, the protesters held the high ground, while those opposing them behaved in very low fashion.  King said that his inspiration for non-violence came from the Bible and the life of Jesus, but the execution of the civil rights movement came from Gandhi.

I was also struck by how young King was when he became such an important figure; he was only 28 at the time of the Montgomery bus boycott.  He wasn't even 40 when he was murdered.  He lived only a short time, but he made the most of the years he had.  A timely reflection for the beginning of a new year.  That's another point the exhibit makes: that King wasn't just a dreamer, making great speeches.  He was a doer, even in the face of defeats and the prospect of complete failure.

I saw a Boris Chaliapin TIME cover and a Yousuf Karsh portrait in the display - nicely tying into two others shows now at the Portrait Gallery.

Verdict: Well worth some time, and easily managed in a lunch hour.  This could be combined with the Meade Brothers display or the holiday cards show.

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