“I wanted to depict the triumphant and poignant story of the American civil rights struggle through art, as a way of honoring those who have allowed me to live with the freedoms I now enjoy.”—Brian Washington
I’ve never met Brian Washington, but he touches my heart. His bold charcoal drawings paint a vivid picture of a dark time in our history and tell the story of the struggle to find the light.
I am a child of the Sixties. As I study his amazing artwork, now on exhibit at the LBJ Library, I’m transported back to my elementary school cafeteria in third grade. It was April 5, 1968, one day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by an assassin’s bullet. I remember feeling deeply sad. I couldn’t really contemplate why. I was likely reflecting the sorrow I saw in my parents’ eyes. They both took part in civil rights marches and were great admirers of Dr. King.
I turned to a classmate during lunch and innocently said, “I can’t believe they killed Martin Luther King.” She coldly replied, “I’m glad! My dad said he was an evil man!” I was crestfallen and confused. My 8–year-old brain was unable to decipher this disparate view of Dr. King’s death. How could her parents see such hate in MLK when mine saw great hope?
Brian’s masterful drawings mirror a time in our history when hope had an upper hand on hate. His works chronicle the unwavering spirit of ordinary people willing to risk their lives, take to the streets and protest a great injustice.
“I wanted to depict the triumphant and poignant story of the American civil rights struggle through art, as a way of honoring those who have allowed me to live with the freedoms I now enjoy,” Brian says.
Right now, Brian is facing his own struggle against a disease called neurosarcoidosis. As we learn and grow from his powerful artwork, this young, talented attorney and self-taught artist is fighting the ravages of a rare disease.
My friend Roy Spence helped bring an exhibit of Brian’s art to the LBJ Library. Roy’s daughter Courtney and Brian became best friends as freshmen at Duke University. “Brian has become a forever member of our family,” Spence says. “His epic artwork is the story of ‘The Continual Struggle.’ Considering his own epic struggle at such a young age with a rare disease and the mighty struggle of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, signing into the law the major civil rights legislation of the 1960s, this inspiring exhibit at the LBJ Library is a must go, take it all in visit.”
On this MLK Day, I am grateful to Brian for reminding us all that while Dr. King's dream is still alive, so is the struggle for hope to ultimately conquer hate.
“Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted…but difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.”—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., August 16, 1967