"Countdown for Eternity": Rare View of Dr. Martin Luther King through the Lens of Benedict Fernandez '87 at Metro

By Hope Ferguson, senior writer, Office of Communications and Government Relations

December 16, 2013

Black and white photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.The Metropolitan Center of SUNY Empire State College will present “Countdown to Eternity,” a rare and intimate view of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final years, as observed through the lens of photographer Benedict J. Fernandez ’87. 

The photographs in this exhibit are culled from Fernandez’s work with King on King’s book, “Trumpets of Freedom.” King was writing this book for a church group in Canada in 1966 and 1967, when Fernandez was invited to take part in the project as a photographer. 

 “Countdown to Eternity,” is on exhibit at the Metropolitan Center, 325 Hudson Street, fifth floor, in New York City. Light refreshments will be served. The opening and the exhibit are free and open to the public. 

The show, which runs through Feb. 27, 2014, coincides with the 50th anniversary of King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, universally recognized for inspiring radical change in race relations in this country and elsewhere.   

In this stunning series of photographs, the viewer is invited  to share both public and private aspects of  King’s life. Fernandez’s camera finds King during proud moments, contemplative moments and triumphant moments. He chronicles both the tragedy and introspection of his immediate family at the time of his death. Most of all, the photographs brilliantly capture the profound impact of King’s work and stand witness to his future legacy. 

“This exhibition has been developed to ensure that, once again, people are reminded of the importance of his timeless message and inspired with the prospect of hope and empowerment,” Fernandez, said. 

Metropolitan Center Dean Cynthia L. Ward added, “Empire State College’s Metropolitan Center is honored to present ‘Countdown to Eternity.’ These powerfully moving images of Dr. Martin Luther King were taken by photographer and alumni Benedict J. Fernandez, who received Empire State College’s Distinguished Alumni Award in June 2013, as part of the Metropolitan Center’s ‘Celebration of Black Heritage’ event.

“These photos immerse us in the historical events of the final year of Dr. King’s life. Since it was founded in 1971, the mission of Empire State College was profoundly influenced by the progressive social movements of the time, and its commitment to access for all to a rigorous and innovative undergraduate education has never wavered.” 

The first photos in the group were taken when King came to New York to give a speech at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. He gave the same speech in front of the United Nations April 15, 1967, a location he chose with care. He was assassinated one year later to the day of his Riverside speech, on April 4, 1968. 

It was with this speech that King stepped onto the world stage as a messenger for peace and civil rights for all people of the world. In one photograph, King stands in front of the United Nations with the American flag in the background, and tells the world of the beginning of the Poor People’s Campaign. 

The portfolio begins with an image of King contemplating what he was going to say when he stood on the platform at the U.N. Other images show more private moments, such as when the civil rights leader is captured playing ball with his children in front of his Atlanta home, and relaxing with his wife, Coretta Scott King. 

Fernandez was on the telephone with King’s secretary, making travel arrangements to go to Atlanta for the final photo shoot, when she gasped, and informed Fernandez that King had been shot. 

About Ben Fernandez

An internationally acclaimed photographer, Ben Fernandez’s work has been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide. He is in permanent collections of, among many others, The Smithsonian, The National Portrait Gallery, The Corcoran Museum of Art, MOMA, The Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, The University of Tokyo Library and The Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

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