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MLK exhibit offers an intimate look at the civil rights leader abroad

Curator Novella Ford wanted to "refresh the conversation" around the civil rights leader during Black History Month.

A new exhibit shows photos of Martin Luther

A new exhibit shows photos of Martin Luther King Jr.'s travels and family life. Photo Credit: Schomburg Center, NYPL / Jonathan Blanc

During the turbulent 1950s and '60s, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, deeds and passion for civil rights was an inspiration to millions of people.

But King was also eager to learn from other freedom fighters, including Mahatma Gandhi, sparking a 1959 trip to India.

Images from that important visit are included in a new photo exhibit, “Crusader: Martin Luther King Jr.,” on view now at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

The show includes intimate photos of the late civil rights leader at home with his family as well as his trip to Oslo, Norway, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Curator Novella Ford said she was looking for a way to “refresh the conversation” around King during Black History Month and delved into the center’s rich collection.

“We have this wonderful set of Polaroids of King traveling to India and his layover in Paris, where he met writer Richard Wright,” Ford said. “You really see him being relaxed around like-minded people."

Ford said while international flight and travel are often viewed as draining experiences, they actually may have provided King with a chance to relax and recharge.

The gallery of photos from India include a telling quote from King: “To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim.”

In his article about the trip in Ebony magazine, which is included in the exhibit, King calls Gandhi “the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change” during the Montgomery boycott to end bus segregation.

Sadly, while both men were admired for their commitment to nonviolence, they were both assassinated — Gandhi in 1948 and King 20 years later in 1968.

The exhibit is timed to the 60th anniversary of “Crusader Without Violence,” the first biography of King. It was written by L.D. Reddick, who accompanied King on his memorable visits to India and Oslo.

“King was very much interested in the global struggle for freedom and connecting dots around the globe with the work he was doing,” Ford said.

IF YOU GO

“Crusader: Martin Luther King Jr.” runs through April 6 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcom X Blvd., 917-275-6975, nypl.org

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