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Department of State

The Hon. Tahesha Way, Lt. Governor and Secretary of State

Artworks inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on display for 60th Anniversary of Letter from Birmingham Jail

TRENTON, NJ – To commemorate the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, the New Jersey State Museum will exhibit four prints by artist Ben Shahn that reflect ideas King put forth in his letter. The mini exhibition will be on view April 1 through June 4, 2023 near the Museum’s main entrance on the first floor.

On April 16, 1963, while imprisoned for participating in nonviolent demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned an open letter in response to a public statement of concern over his message and methods issued by eight white religious leaders of the South. In the letter, Dr. King addresses each claim put forth in the statement and outlines the value of nonviolent campaigns against racial injustice. His underpinning message is that devotion to order over justice will never bring about necessary social change, and each person is responsible for acting according to their own conscience.

Approximately two years after Dr. King published the Letter from Birmingham Jail, Time magazine used artist Ben Shahn’s portrait of the Civil Rights leader for their March 19, 1965 cover. Shahn (1898–1969) was among the most prominent socially engaged American artists of the 20th century, tackling social and political issues from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement. An admirer of Dr. King, and a strong advocate in the fight for racial equity, Shahn was deeply committed to art that revealed the injustice in the lives of marginalized and persecuted people.

The Museum holds a large number of works by Shahn; three other prints are on view in the American Perspectives gallery on the Museum’s second floor.

The New Jersey State Museum is open Tuesday - Sunday, 9:00 am to 4:45 pm. General admission is free. For additional information visit, like the Museum’s Facebook page (@NJStateMuseum), and follow us on Twitter (njstatemuseum) or Instagram (nj_statemuseum).

About the New Jersey State Museum
Located at 205 West State Street in Trenton, the New Jersey State Museum encompasses three buildings including a state-of-the-art Planetarium and holds over 2 million artifacts in its collections in Archaeology/Ethnography, Cultural History, Fine Art and Natural History. The New Jersey State Museum is a center for the exploration of science, history and the arts. We preserve and share stories that inspire curiosity and creativity for the enrichment of our communities.

About the New Jersey State Museum Foundation
The New Jersey State Museum Foundation was founded in 1968 as a non-profit 501(c)(3) to support the Museum's collections, exhibitions and programs through fundraising, volunteerism, advocacy and marketing. In recent years, the Foundation has received generous support from the PNC Foundation, NJM Insurance Group, Department of State/New Jersey Historical Commission, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, The Henry Luce Foundation, The Capstone Foundation and Princeton Area Community Foundation. The Foundation also operates the Museum membership program, as well as the Museum Shop which sells merchandise related to the Museum's exhibitions and collections, and New Jersey history and culture. Proceeds support the New Jersey State Museum's collections, exhibitions and programs.


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