Five days after the world lost one of America’s most prestigious purveyors of peace to an assassin’s bullet, Constantine “Costa” Manos was sent to photograph the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King had two funerals on the morning of April 9, 1968 — the first, a small service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, attended only by family and close friends, and the second, a public ceremony at Morehouse College. It was the earlier, more intimate of the two, that Magnum Photos assigned to Costa in the hopes of securing a photo of Dr. King’s widow, Coretta, and their children as they bid him a final farewell. The nation grieved for this eminent advocate for civil rights, while his family mourned a husband and a father.
“I was very moved,” says Costa. “I was a great admirer of Martin Luther King, and I was honored that I was in a position to make that picture.”
Placing himself directly in front of the casket, Costa respectably waited for the precise second in which to best capture the family’s emotions. “I only had a moment or two,” he says, “and it was a lot of pressure because it came and went so quickly. It was a matter of getting the right expression. Coretta and the family were completely silent and awestruck. Their faces show how they felt. It is a very emotional picture.”
Costa was unable to talk with the family following the service. Coretta and her children, surrounded by family, friends, and security personnel, were immediately escorted outside where thousands of people lined the streets to pay their respects to a champion of peace and equality.
But with his talented eye and Leica camera, Costa Manos captured forever this stunningly poignant portrait of personal pain and American history.