The years Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (1954–1960) are greatly felt in Montgomery. During that time, King was one of the organizers of the 1955-56 bus boycott, demonstrating his philosophy of nonviolent protest to the world, while also encouraging and emboldening ordinary citizens of Montgomery to lead the nation towards justice. In 1965 King famously returned to the Capital City, leading the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March to the State Capitol.
D’Andre T. Massey was a senior at Montgomery’s Carver High School when he created Keep It Alive. The artist and other students worked collaboratively with photographer Jerry Siegel and MMFA educators to create and curate the exhibition Portraits of a Community, featuring their visions of West Montgomery’s past and present and hopes for its future. Massey turned to contemplating the footsteps of Dr. King—who led marchers from Saint Jude through the neighborhood and towards the capitol on the final leg of the Voting Rights in March of 1965—as King’s work in Montgomery held a constant and impactful presence in Massey’s youthful world.
Around the composite young man (Massey himself), we see a Montgomery city school bus, and a National Parks Service sign commemorating the Voting Rights Trail. Massey, who lived at the time on that very historic route, wears his Senior shirt. Along with the bus behind him, the school symbols represent living in the present but looking beyond to see what’s next. Set amidst the various structures in the background, an image of King is overlaid upon the broken window of an abandoned church around the corner from where Massey lived, where King is said to have held sermons, symbolizing all that stands to be healed and restored. The work represents the individual and collective call to keep the dream alive—to help others when you can and to not be afraid to seek out help if you need it. In the artist’s own words, “Unity helps us all progress.”