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Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
On view
February 16 – May 20, 2018

New York, NY – January 11, 2017 – To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, the New-York Historical Society presents an exhibition of photographs and artifacts honoring these visionary leaders who irrevocably changed the United States. On view February 16 – May 20, 2018, Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. showcases approximately 60 photographs and 30 documents and artifacts that uncover the relationship between these historic figures.

Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 –April 4, 1968) and Robert F. Kennedy (November 20, 1925 –June 6, 1968) were born worlds apart—culturally, geographically, racially, financially, and politically—but by the time they were killed within months of each another in 1968, their worlds had come together. As their respective concerns expanded beyond civil rights and organized crime, their ties deepened to encompass shared interests in supporting the poor and opposing the war in Vietnam. This unprecedented exhibition explores the overlapping paths of their lives through images taken by some of the most renowned photojournalists of the era, including  Bob Adelman, Danny Lyon, Henri Dauman, Jacques Lowe, Spider Martin, Steve Schapiro, Lawrence Schiller, and Paul Schutzer, alongside original correspondence, publications, and ephemera.

“The year 1968 rocked the nation in many ways, but it would be difficult to point to anything that shocked and sickened Americans more that year than the senseless and tragic deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “Fifty years later, the legacies of Kennedy and King still reverberate. This timely exhibition underscores the two men’s lasting impact on our nation while drawing attention to the ways in which their lives intersected. ”

Exhibition highlights include images of King and his son looking at the charred remains of a cross the Ku Klux Klan burned outside his Atlanta home in 1960, King’s mug shot after being indicted for the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Kennedy being swarmed by an adoring crowd during his 1968 presidential campaign. Also on view are posters reading “Honor King: End Racism!” and “I Am a Man” that were carried in a Memphis march led by widow Coretta Scott King and her children on April 8, 1968, as well as a black and white “Kennedy/King” button worn by a New Yorker in memory of the two slain leaders. An adjunct display showcases the bronze sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr.―one of five existing casts created by Harlem Renaissance artist Charles Alston (1907– 1997), on loan from the Community Church of New York.

Rebel Spirits is based in part on The Promise and the Dream, written by David Margolick and produced by Lawrence Schiller  to be published on April 2, 2018. The exhibition was curated by Lawrence Schiller, Cristian Panaite, and Marilyn Kushner. It was produced by Wiener Schiller Productions, Inc. in association with Susan Bloom International with support from Getty Images, The Jacques Lowe Estate, and Steve Schapiro.

Lead support for Rebel Spirits was provided by provided by Leah and Michael R. Weisberg.  Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. WNET is a media sponsor.

Publication & Programming
Written by Vanity Fair contributing editor and New York Times writer David Margolick, The Promise and the Dream: The Interrupted Lives of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. features an introduction by historian Douglas Brinkley. The book will be available at the NYHistory Store.

Several public programs will provide further insights into the exhibition and its time period. On March 6, eminent legal experts survey the evolution of the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretations of the 14th Amendment—in commemoration of its 150th anniversary—and civil rights throughout American history, highlighting landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education. On April 23, scholar Randall Kennedy discusses the Supreme Court and Martin Luther King Jr. On May 21, journalist Chris Matthews sits down to explore the rebel spirit of Robert Kennedy. 

Ahead of the exhibition on Saturday, January 13, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, young visitors can learn about the speech King made in 1967 in New York City about the Vietnam War that made huge waves in the civil rights movement across the United States in a special family friendly program. The event also features a Q&A with one of the speech’s organizers, Reverend Richard Fernandez, director of the Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam in 1967, and acclaimed author Tonya Bolden (M.L. K.: Journey of a King). On Sunday, January 14, the Reading into History Family Book Club discusses acclaimed author Russell Freedman’s comprehensive look at the war, Vietnam: A History of the War, which contextualizes for middle graders one of America’s most confusing and fraught wars. On Monday, January 14, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, children can join a special story time featuring Walter Dean Myers’ children’s book Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam, which tells the story of a black soldier in Vietnam encountering, and rethinking, his enemy.

About the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.

Press Contacts
Ines Aslan, New-York Historical Society                                  Meagan Jones, Polskin Arts
212.485.9263 / Ines.aslan@nyhistory.org                              212.593.6485 / meagan.jones@finnpartners.com

Thursday, January 11, 2018
Creative: Tronvig Group