Dear Anybody Who Wants to Ask The Question Why? By Fred Baldwin

On January 21, 2020, I received an unsolicited message from Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. It must have been sent to at least one million other people but I was moved by Mr. Walker’s message. He wrote about “Hard work and hope – how we move forward during the year ahead…” It honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This message inspired me to do something I had never done before. It was for me a measure bordering on inappropriate and perhaps edging toward lunacy.

I wrote a letter to Darren Walker and offered to send him a signed print of a photograph that I had taken of Dr. King in January 1964 – as a gift. It was a duplicate of one that had been donated to President Obama in November 2018 by Secretary Baker of the Baker Institute of Public Policy.

Why had I done this? Why was I sending a donation to the head of the Ford Foundation when common practice is the other way around? Why was the upside-down impulse so powerful?

Upon deep reflection, I have decided that “the other way around” led me to make the photograph in the first place. As a young white Southern photographer, I had become involved with the Civil Rights Movement because I felt that my “white” perceptions needed to be – not only “turned around” but turned upside down to understand what was on the other side.

I feel deeply that the same is true today – and this terrifying state of “upside downiness” is exaggerated on a daily basis. I wanted to give this image as an appropriate symbol that flips our vindictive culture in the direction of hope in tribute to Dr. King and thanks to Darren Walker and remind America that individuals can make a difference.

Fred Baldwin

Noted photographer and co-founder of FotoFest,
Fred Baldwin has recently published, Dear Mr. Picasso: An Illustrated Love Affair with Freedom. The book is a photographic memoir of Baldwin’s extraordinary life: how he followed his dream, used his imagination, overcame fear, and acted to accomplish anything.


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