Black History: Special Delivery!!
Moneta Sleet, Jr. (1926 – 1996) captured the images and experiences of the civil rights movement and the struggle for equality in the U.S. and Africa. Sleet is perhaps best known for his award winning photo taken at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of Coretta Scott King her daughter Bernice who was 5 years old at the time. He received the Pulitzer Prize in journalism for the photo. He was the first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Sleet first began photographing the civil rights movement when he traveled to Montgomery, AL in 1955 to cover the Montgomery Bus Boycott lead by Martin Luther King, Jr. As fate would have it, Sleet would cover both the “birth” of the civil rights movement, as well as the funeral of its leader, and everything in-between. Sleet was also known for his coverage of various independence ceremonies and celebrations in Africa.
Sleet was passionate about the movement that he brought to life for so many through his photographs. Unapologetic, Sleet once said, “I wasn’t there as an objective reporter. I had something to say and was trying to show one side of it. We didn’t have any problems finding the other side.” The civil rights movement was well known for its many marches. Sleet was known for going twice the distance as normal marchers because he would often double back to capture images of the crowds that were marching. He estimated that on the 50 mile Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, that he walked 100 miles because he kept walking back and forth along the route to take photos.
Sleet was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. He received his first camera at the age of 9. At the time, he had no thought of becoming a professional photographer. While attending Kentucky State College, he decided to switch his major from business to photography after being hired as an assistant at a commercial photography studio. His education at Kentucky State was halted by World War II. He would later go on to attend the School of Modern Photography in New York. He received a masters degree in journalism from New York University. He would work for The Amsterdam News and then Our World Magazine before joining Ebony Magazine.
Sleet became a highly sought after photographer among the civil rights leaders and celebrities that he covered in his work for Ebony Magazine. When planning the funeral services for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King discovered, that of the group of photographers that were to cover Dr. King’s funeral, none were black. Mrs. King was adamant that if Moneta Sleet, Jr. was not allowed to cover the funeral and given access to a choice vantage point from which to photograph, that no other photographers would be allowed at the funeral.
Moneta Sleet died in 1996 at the age of 70. His family reported that he died from cancer.
Check out this youtube video that shares some of Moneta Sleet’s iconic photographs.