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The National Civil Rights Museum has opened a new exhibition, Lest We Forget… Images of the Black Civil Rights Movement, on display until May 6, 2024. This traveling collection, showcasing 35 powerful portraits and images by Robert Templeton, captures key figures and moments from the Black civil rights movement, spanning from the Niagara Movement to the 1970s.
Against the backdrop of Templeton’s humble beginnings in the Great Depression, his passion for art blossomed, defying norms to pursue a career in painting. Influenced by Norman Rockwell’s iconic Saturday Evening Post covers, he defied convention by choosing art as a career. He was inspired by the turmoil of the 1967 Detroit riots and embarked on a mission to visually document the struggle for equal rights.
In his collaboration with Benjamin Mays, creating a list of individuals whose portraits would embody the fight for equal rights, he painted iconic leaders like Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Vice President Hubert Humphrey, A. Philip Randolph, and others. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated before a sitting could be scheduled, so for Dr. King’s portrait, Coretta Scott King helped Templeton choose the photo which became the basis of Templeton’s largest and most impressive portrait.
Templeton’s firsthand experiences covering events for CBS News and TIME magazine, including the New Haven Black Panther trial and the Detroit Riots, lend an authenticity that are the hallmarks of his work. He captured not only national figures like President Jimmy Carter but also local leaders, cementing his dedication to the collection — a lasting tribute to the fight for equality.
First shown at Atlanta’s Emory University in 1986, Lest We Forget is a stirring portrayal of an era worth remembering. In Memphis for the first time, the Lest We Forget exhibition is included with museum admission. Visit civilrightsmuseum.org for more information.