The painting above is from Benny Andrews’ portfolio series called “The John Lewis Series,” which depicts congressman John Lewis as a young man watching Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) speaking. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Speaking” was recently exhibited at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia ( June 9, 2014 to January 4, 2015).
Benny Andrews was as important an activist as he was an artist. His advocacy for African Americans in the arts left us with a persisting legacy. Andrews’ depictions of both domestic and sociopolitical realities of the Segregated South express the essence of the pride, dignity, and discord that African Americans endured (and still experience to this day).
A few months after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, Andrews exhibited in the “Martin Luther King Memorial Exhibition” at the Museum of Modern Art. That same year he helped organize and participated in demonstrations against the exclusion of Harlem artists and community members from participating in the planning of the “Harlem on my Mind:Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900-1968“ exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art’s omission of black artists in its “Artists of the Thirties” exhibition.
In response to the condescending and exclusionary tone of “Harlem on my Mind,” Andrews helped to found an organization called the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition in 1969.