Deep Sorrow, 1968


When Coretta Scott King discovered that the press pool covering the funeral of her husband included no black photographers, she let it known that if Moneta J. Sleet Jr. was not allowed into the church, she would let no photographers into the church.

Sleet’s photo of Bernice King tearfully clasping her mother inside the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her father had been the pastor for the last eight years won a Pulitzer Prize, making Sleet the first African American journalist to win that award. He remembered that emotion-fraught moment, five days after Dr. King was shot dead:

“I looked over and saw Mrs. King consoling her daughter. I was photographing the child as she was fidgeting on her mama’s lap. Professionally, I was doing what I had been trained to do, and I was glad of that because I was very involved emotionally. If I hadn’t been there working, I would have been off crying like everybody else.”

Sleet had known the Kings for over a decade, since 1956, when he photographed the couple with another daughter on the steps of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He even travelled with Dr. King when the latter went to Stockholm to collect his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

The photo was titled Deep Sorrow by Sleet and was first featured in Ebony Magazine, for which he captured Dr. King and other leading African American celebrities of his day – from Muhammad Ali to Stevie Wonder. He accompanied Vice President Richard M. Nixon’s tour of newly independent Africa nations, and took a famous photo of Kwame Nkrumah on Ghana’s independence day. Before King’s funeral brought him the Pulitzer, he had been at another forlorn occasion when he also photographed Betty Shabazz at the funeral of her slain husband, Malcolm X. His Pulitzer also transcended photography: he was the first black man to win the prize (after poet Gwendolyn Brooks in 1950 who was the first African American to win), and the first black person to win the Pulitzer for journalism.


Lindsaye Tshabalala’s Fiery Death

During apartheid, South Africa’s white minority government made its goal to encourage Inkatha-ANC divisions to keep its black enemies at each others’ throats. Now, in 1990, as the government of F.W. de Klerk began negotiating with Nelson Mandela’s ANC, these divisions presented a golden opportunity for some. Using the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) as their proxy, some elements within the establishment tried to destabilize the country, scuttle the negotiations, and at least delay the majority rule. Thousands of Zulus were forced out of their homes in ANC-loyal areas in Natal. The Zulus fought back violently, as police were reluctant to restore order. From July to September 1990, in one of the bloodiest clashes in modern South African history, the Zulus launched raids in the Transvaal townships, where nearly 800 were slain. In 1990 alone, over 3,000 people died as violence escalated.

A mob murder at Soweto’s Nancetield Hostel put a previously broke freelancer with obsolete cameras named Greg Marinovich on the road to international recognition. Marinovich felt as if he was “one of the circle of killers, shooting with wide-angle lens”. For the above photo of a man hacking at a burning man with a machete, Marinovich would later win a Pulitzer. A Zulu named Lindsaye Tshabalala was suspected of spying for Inkatha, and was executed by African National Congress supporters. Marinovich remembers: “This was without doubt the worst day of my life, and the trauma remains with me, despite some twenty years and a lot of coming to terms with the incident, my role and what it means to be involved in murder. This mudered happened a month after I had witnessed the one in Nancefield Hostel, and I was determined to redeem myself by not just being an observer. I neither saved him, nor redeemed myself, though at least I did not act shamefully.”

Violent nature of the image garnered ire from American editors when it was distributed via AP wire. Police approached the AP Johannesburg bureau to ask the photographer hand over his pictures so that they could identify the killers. Marinovich was convinced that this was unfair: the police did not request the pictures from Nancetield where the perpetrators are their Inkatha allies. Marinovich didn’t want to hand in his other negatives from Tshabalala murder, and fortunately for him, the police were unable to locate and subpoena one Sebastian Balic, the pseudonym Marinovich used for his photographs. He fled South Africa before further subpoenas could arrive.

The government saw the violence as an vindication of its predictions that the ANC would not be able to govern South Africa. But violence or not, apartheid was dying. In 1992, the Boipatong massacre derailed the negotiations briefly, but they resumed, and South Africa slowly crawled back from pariah-hood. In the same year, it was permitted to compete in the Olympics following the repeal of all apartheid laws the previous year. In 1993, it announced that it had permanently halted its nuclear program, whose very existence once denied vehemently. F.W. de Klerk and Mandela shared a Nobel peace prize in 1994, shortly before the all-race elections formally ended four-decade long apartheid.


Remember the Maine


By the time the USS Maine, an American warship in Havana Harbour was blew up under questionable circumstances with over 250 hands lost, the American public had already formed their united stand on the rebellion in Cuba. Two leading newspapers of the time, Joseph Pulitzer’s The World, and William Randolph Hearst’s the New York Journal, both informed their readers of the virtue of the Cubans and the perfidy and cruelty of the Spaniards.

Two editors were rivals and wanted to attract more readers, and to do so, both Pulitzer and Hearst claimed that the Spanish were the cause of the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine. Pulitzer covered the horrible explosion of the ship while Hearst focused on the enemy who set the bomb — and offered a reward of 50,000 dollars to anyone who can detect the perpetrator. To this day, what happened on 15 February under the cover of night at 9:40 p.m. remained a mystery.

The World says that the Maine was exploded by the Spanish because one of their journalists arriving from Cuba had “overheard” a plot to blow up the Maine. Thus began the long march of the war hawks: the assistant secretary of the navy, Teddy Roosevelt left his post to fight the Spain. From then on, it was “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!” all the way to San Juan Hill. The war was over in a matter of weeks, but marked the birth of the American imperial overreach.