Inspiration Wall: L.A.’s Many Murals of Martin Luther King


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Avalon Boulevard S. of Colden, Los Angeles

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Avalon Boulevard, Los Angeles

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Compton Avenue at 55th Street, Los Angeles

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South Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles

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Manchester Avenue towards Cimarron, Los Angeles

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Vernon Avenue at Hooper Avenue, Los Angeles

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47th Street at Normandie Avenue, Los Angeles

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West Montana Street and Woodward Avenue, Highland Park

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LAMP’s communal artwork.


On Friday, as the beloved countenance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. looked down from colorful folk art renderings, instructor Hayk Makmuryan quietly prompted his “students” to create their own MLK tribute. Inside the 1,000-square-foot art studio at LAMP, a community serving the mentally ill of skid row, Makmuryan had sketched out a silhouette of the civil rights leader delivering his “I Have a Dream” oratory, part of a mural in an impoverished Philadelphia community. The dramatic portrait is among scores that New York-based photographer Camilo Jose Vergara discovered over four decades profiling poorer neighborhoods in L.A. and Chicago, Detroit and New York (among many other cities). Earlier this year, in honor of the 50th anniversary of King’s speech, the U.S. State Department sent Vergara’s photos of the MLK murals to consulates around the world. As the images returned to the U.S., Vergara, a recent recipient of the National Humanities Medal, enlisted volunteers to find more permanent homes for them in the neighborhoods they hailed from. In L.A. they now hold pride of place along the wall of the dining hall at the Los Angeles Mission and in the rear hallway and studio at LAMP. They show the singular embrace of a community: how in South L.A. King is frequently surrounded with Latino heroes and iconography. How Barack Obama has replaced Malcolm X as his companion. At LAMP, a curious amalgam emerges in the communal drawing. Japanese calligraphy appears in one corner. Rainbow-colored stick figures dance in a circle. An angel flies past Hope, and Dreams, and Love. And if I had to guess, there’s a Toltec accent or two.

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