Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 16, 2017

MLK Day Meets the Trump Inauguration

(Frank Dandridge/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

We felt a special obligation this year to find just the right photo to commemorate Martin Luther King Day. The goal was to find an image that also informed the auspicious event taking place on Friday. Then the task became even more specific and complicated after Rep. John Lewis called Trump’s election illegitimate, and Trump lashed out at the civil rights hero, and his Atlanta district, with a racist dogwhistle.

All that in mind, what jumped out at us was this photo Instagrammed by ABC. The brief  caption read:

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968) is seen in this photo taken during the second Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights march, also known as ‘Turnaround Tuesday,’ in Selma, Alabama, March 9, 1965.

Projecting as much ambiguity as tension, the key element is King’s left hand. Adorned with the french cuff and the shining wedding ring, those objects are juxtaposed with a pair of scars. Also charged by King’s compression between two other figures, the hand reads two ways at once. The arrangement of the index and the middle finger, the way they meet King’s lower lip, conveys contemplation. It’s King “the thinker.” If you put more emphasis on the knuckles, and the configuration of the ring finger, the thumb and the pinky, though, it looks more like a fist.  What is the appropriate stance of the African-American community, and all who feel threatened by the polarizing, patronizing and divisive Trump? Depending on Trump’s engagement, the response, or more specifically, the range, is on hand.

(photo: Frank Dandridge/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

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