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[Audio] How Civil Rights Era, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photo was Gifted to Murray State


Pogue Library at Murray State University is home to numerous special collections and oral history projects. Tucked among these documents is the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Coretta Scott King and her daughter Bernice at Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral taken by Owensboro native Moneta Sleet Jr. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with Sarah Hopley, Special Collections & Exhibits Librarian, about how this photo, and a thank you letter signed by Sleet ended up in the archives at Murray State.

Moneta Sleet Jr. was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism, receiving the award in 1969 for his photo of Coretta King at her husband's funeral comforting her daughter Bernice. When Coretta learned that there were only white photographers covering her husband's funeral she said if Moneta's not there then no one can take photos, thus he was the only African American to cover MLK's funeral.

Sleet went to Kentucky State University where he got his business degree. Later, he got his masters degree in journalism from New York University. He worked for local African American newspapers before getting a job with Johnson publishing, where he spent most of his career working for Ebony Magazine. Almost immediately, he was assigned covering Martin Luther King Jr. He photographed MLK when he won the Nobel Peace Prize and photographed the Selma March, where he remarked that he walked the march twice as much as everyone else going back and forth taking photographs.

Working with Ebony Magazine, Sleet took many iconic photos of African American celebrities like Muhammad Ali, Stevie Wonder with his glasses off and Billie Holiday a month before she died. 

The back of the Nobel Prize winning photo mentions that it was gifted to Murray State in 1979. Working with the oral history program collecting the stories of African Americans in western Kentucky, Mary Bates met him and interviewed him. The photograph comes with an autographed letter, commenting on the great time he had. In the recording, Bates asked him what he thought of black and white relationships. He said that the hope of better relationships lies in domestic affairs and adds that the high point of his life was when Ghana became independent in 1957.

Sleet's son Gregory was the Attorney General for Delaware and is currently a district judge. 

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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