Preacher & Doc

“I take photographs to tell important stories to people who weren’t there,” says Bob Fitch.

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Bob Fitch Photo Archive © Stanford University Libraries

BY JEFFREY LOTT

Lewis & Clark Chronicle, Fall 2015
Editor: Shelly Meyer

Clutching his camera, Bob Fitch stood over the open casket of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 9, 1968. Before him, he saw the famous Reverend Doctor, civil rights leader, and martyr. He also saw a brother, a mentor, and a friend. He thought of the time he’d spent with King and others in the civil rights movement, photographing the height of the voting-rights struggle in the Deep South. And before he raised his camera to capture an image of King’s corpse, he paused.

“It was a tough decision to take that photo,” he says. “It felt like blasphemy to put a camera in his face. But then I thought, ‘The world needs to see this horrible truth.’” Bringing the camera to his eye, Fitch made an indelible picture: King is at peace, yet a dark-skinned hand hovers above his head, its veins distended. The meaning of the picture is not so much in King’s dead body, but in that hand. The horrible truth is clenched forever in that fist.

Asked recently about the photo he took at Martin Luther King Jr.’s viewing nearly 50 years ago, Fitch chokes with emotion. “When I look at this picture today,” he says slowly, “I feel a throbbing in my chest and shoulders because I knew him personally. He recognized me as a colleague, as a younger brother. It’s as though my brother were murdered.

“Our country has a terrible history of slaying its workers for peace and justice— its teachers, preachers, union leaders, strikers. It’s a reminder that the whole struggle for nonviolence and justice is still very much with us today—both the struggle and the oppression.”

Read more and see additional Bob Fitch photographs in the Lewis & Clark Chronicle.

Note:  Bob Fitch died in his sleep of complications from Parkinson’s disease on April 29, 2016. There’s a nice tribute to him here.

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