MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We want to take a moment to review some important history now. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s move to Chicago. King, along with his family, moved to the city in January 1966 and spent the year there laying the groundwork for the campaign to expand the civil rights movement into the North. There, segregation was often as thorough in practice as it was in the South, especially when it came to housing.
We wanted to hear from someone who was there to witness what became known as the Chicago Freedom Movement, so we reached out to photographer Bernard Kleina, a Chicago native and former Catholic priest who documented the Chicago demonstrations led by King in rare color photographs.
BERNARD KLEINA: In Chicago, I was involved in some of the marches. And in other marches, I tried to document what was going on. There was a great deal of criticism of Dr. King saying that he was the one causing the violence, and so I wanted to show, I guess, the truth of what was going on.
MARTIN: Kleina was a newcomer to photography and especially photojournalism.
KLEINA: At that time, I really wasn't a photographer. I before that took photos of my family and vacations.
MARTIN: But in 1966, when Dr. King moved to Chicago, Kleina says he thought it was important to use his camera to document the events, especially to document that the demonstrators were peaceful and not the ones provoking the riots.
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MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: We are trying to conduct a nonviolent movement here in Chicago. And we are going on with that program, but we need support. And anybody else saying that because we are peacefully going around trying to change conditions that we are the cause of the riots. That's dishonest. It is untrue. It is unfair to say it to the public.
MARTIN: Kleina says the fact that his photographs are in color was kind of an accident.
KLEINA: Virtually no one else shot in color at that time of demonstrations because at least the pros wanted to be sure that their images would be in newspapers and magazines. I definitely didn't realize at the time I was photographing Dr. King that history was being made.
And even now, it kind of surprises me when I look back at my own images. But I like to tell people that if you wait until you think you're completely qualified for something, maybe it's too late.
MARTIN: His time following Martin Luther King, Jr. in Chicago inspired Bernard Kleina to launch a career as a professional photographer. His work is now included in the collections of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian Institution. He eventually left the priesthood and also worked as a fair housing advocate.
KLEINA: Because of Dr. King and his focus on open housing, I became involved in a fair housing center outside of Chicago. And for the last 41 years, I tried to use my photography to help people understand the hurt of discrimination. And the Chicago Freedom Movement started in 1965, but it's still going on, and it's up to us to carry on his work.
MARTIN: That was photographer and civil rights activist Bernard Kleina. To see some of Bernard Kleina's photography during the Chicago Freedom Movement, please visit npr.org.
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