With fame comes photographs. Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most photographed men in the world. While some of the photos have been seen by millions, a photo taken in St. Louis has never been seen by the public before now. We don't yet know the man and woman who posed with Dr. King, but we know the woman who photographed them in 1963.
The late Olivia Merriweather Perkins taught science at Sumner High School. In her four decades of teaching, she had some famous students at Sumner like Tina Turner, Arthur Ashe and Chuck Berry.
Sumner alumnus Warice Blackmon-Davis who works for St. Louis Public Schools says Ms. Perkins was a photographer in charge of Sumner's photography club and demanded excellence from the all-male club.
"They had to be in place when we had events. They were expected to be very professional so there was no horse playing so when you were engaged in those activities. You had to be focused on it and your job had to be completed when it was supposed to be completed," said Blackmon-Davis.
As documented at the current civil rights exhibit at the Missouri History Museum, the 1963 Jefferson Bank protest was a seminal moment in St. Louis civil rights history. One of the Jefferson Bank protesters was Norman Seay, 85, who is part of the exhibit.
"Jefferson Bank refused to hire black persons," said Seay.
A group of black protesters with signs conducted a peaceful protest by blocking the main entrance to the bank. Police arrested many of the protesters including Seay, who spent three months in jail. During the Jefferson Bank protests, Dr. King came to St. Louis. And at some point Olivia Merriweather-Perkins took this photo of the civil rights leader. King met with organizers who were planning other protests at downtown businesses refusing to hire blacks and it's likely the people with King in the photo were protest organizers.
"I'm glad that he came because he was recognized as a leader of the civil rights movement and his presence was an asset," said Seay. "When he came we were proud of the fact that he came."
Norman Seay had his own photo op with Dr. King, but he doesn't remember the date or occasion. Seay recalls that Dr. King's visit caused local businesses to revisit their refusal to hire African-Americans.
"As a result of the bank demonstration other banks did not want that kind of demonstration so they employed blacks," said Seay.
If you know the people posing with Dr. King in Olivia Perkins' photo, we'd like to hear from you. Dr. Jeffrey Copeland, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa, wrote a book about Olivia Perkins and bought her photo collection, including the King photo.
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