Tom Keough’s Poster for a Social Justice Cause
April 4 marked the 50th year since the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King. In remembrance, Tom Keough offered up his involvement with a commissioned drawing that became an iconic poster. Here’s Tom’s words:
“This is a brief explanation of my involvement with the poster. I know that it is not the usual artist statement of a landscape painter, but I’ve always done a lot of different kinds of art work. There is no shortage of problems in the world and sometimes I can do a little to work on some of them. The problems of racism constantly horrify me. I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff.
Recently I discovered that I had over a dozen of these old posters. The original drawing was commissioned by the City of New York for the City’s official commemoration of Dr. King’s birthday. In January 1982, the event was held in Saint Thomas Episcopal Cathedral in Rockefeller Center. The original four foot tall drawing is long and thin to fit one of the church columns.
In January 1983 the United States Capital displayed an exhibition honoring Dr King for the month of his birthday. One piece of art was displayed from each of the fifty states. The exhibition was held in the Rotunda. My drawing represented the State of New York.
The original art was later exhibited in the UN Headquarters main lobby in NYC and then in UN offices in several countries. It traveled for the next couple of years in the US and internationally. The image has been reproduced in many newspapers and magazines.
These posters and the use of the image as illustrations was always done to support organizations fighting against bigotry. Originally the sales of the posters were fundraisers for the families in Atlanta suffering from the kidnapping and murder of their Black children in the early 1980s. Since I recently found more of these—which I had not seen in over a decade—I decided that I want to use these posters to support the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which I see as the leading force fighting racism, anti-Semitism and other cruel forms of bigotry in this country. The history of the SPLC includes constantly combating the worst terrorists of Ku Klux Klan groups and violent people calling themselves Nazis and Confederates. I’ve worked against these groups all my life in small ways, usually with art but the SPLC lawyers and teaching programs have made gigantic strides for social justice. I wish I could do more to support them but a little fundraising is actually necessary for an organization. I hope I can sell these for that purpose.
Please contact me if you are interested in receiving one of these recently-discovered posters. I have been asking people to make a check for at least $10 to the Southern Poverty Law Center. You’ll get a poster and the SPLC will get the check.” —Tom Keough