On Jan. 15, 1969, at the first memorial service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday, nine months after his assassination, photographers from national media outlets descended upon Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to cover the event. While most of the professionals left the service early to meet press deadlines, one photographer remained to capture the tribute and to also take some photographs at Dr. King’s grave-site — Horace Henry.
Henry, a 21-year-old student from Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University), had grabbed a camera as an afterthought on his way out the dorm that morning as he and some fellow Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers got on their way to honor King. “None of us knew that we were going to get inside the church”.
Upon arrival at the service and maneuvering his way to the very back of the church inside sanctuary, someone, seeing the camera around Henry’s neck, ushered him to the front of the church. Nervously, he began to do his best to take photos despite the fact that he had no idea how to operate the camera, which his brother had just sent to him from overseas.
Henry captured events that day in over 40 black and white photographs. The pictures include such notables in the civil rights movement as Coretta Scott King; Harry Belafonte; the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and his wife Alberta Williams King; Ralph David Abernathy; Andrew Young and Rosa Parks. They are all included in his book “One Day In January”. This is the largest private collection of (and the only one known to exist in the world) photographs taken at the first birthday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Henry said the photos he took at Ebenezer 46 years ago recorded an important time in U.S. history, as the service laid the groundwork for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance we celebrate today.
“It chronicles the ecumenical service which led to a national holiday and the significance of that is that the national media had to get in and get the photos and get out, but I was fortunate enough to record all of the program on film. It’s a clear documentation of what happened that day,” he said.
Henry said he kept the photos in a shoe box for years, until friends encouraged him to publish a book of the pictures. He also contacted the Smithsonian National Museum to see if they had any interest in the photos, and the museum sent a curator to his house.
“(The curator) said, ‘Mr. Henry, we must have this collection at the Smithsonian,’” said Henry.
Henry donated the photos to become part of the permanent collection at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photo collections at the museum rotate, and he hopes his collection called “One Day In January” will be on display soon. The Collection is already available at the Museum on computer.
“Long after (we) are gone, the photos will be there for everyone to enjoy,” said Henry.
To learn more about Horace Henry’s book or to purchase a copy, visit http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/3148278 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.