Romare Bearden’s screenprint celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we honor today. Bearden created this artwork in the same year Dr. King was murdered, but rather than focusing on the violence of the assassination, instead memorializes King’s career and influence. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands facing the eager crowd, looking toward the mountain ahead, a reference to King’s final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” In this speech, Dr. King prophetically concluded, “I’ve been to the mountaintop…And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” The viewer, placed behind King, is invited to also see the mountaintop and Promised Land ahead. The figure stands with his arms outstretched, a visual allusion to Dr. King as a martyr. Romare Bearden’s use of cool colors suggest an optimism, and emphasizes Dr. King’s non-violent form of activism. Simultaneously, the screenprint conveys a sense of urgency in the strong orange line across the top of the artwork, and the warm sun in the upper-left corner.
This artwork has been temporarily loaned to the Museum as part of the exhibition Romare Bearden: Artist, Activist, and Advocate for the Promised Land.