CHICAGO — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is forever memorialized in countless pictures, most in black and white.
But one Chicago area photographer took some of the only color photographs of King’s historic visit to Chicago.
They are photos taken more than a half-century ago.
“I didn’t realize the significance,” Bernie Kleina said.
Kleina was 30 years old when King came to Chicago in 1965 advocating for open housing.
The speech at Soldier Field drew thousands. Kleina was one of them and he brought his camera loaded with color film.
“It didn’t even occur to me to shoot in black and white like the pros were doing,” Kleina said. “But now I have something that nobody else has.”
His are some of the first images of King seen by many in a largely black-and-white world. They are now held in archives and museums around the world.
“In those days, there was really no security, so I could get close to King as you and I to photograph him and no one said ‘You can’t be here,'” Kleina said. “I was able to get photographs I never thought possible.”
Those moments spurred a young man into his passion to help.
“He came to Chicago to talk about what he called open housing, we call fair housing now,” Kleina said. “So 40 years I was the director of a fair housing center trying to continue his work. So I have a lot to be thankful for, for what Dr. King taught me.”
This week, his life’s work is being honored by the Law Center for Better Housing.
“Bernie really is admired by those of us in housing justice, not only for his photography, but his passion for fair housing,” Allen Hailey said.
For Kleina, who is nearing his 88th birthday this month, it’s a life’s work that began with these pictures.
“When I took them, my only hope was that they be in focus and now my hope goes beyond that,” he said.
His hope is that his images, seen around the country, carries a message of justice for new generations.
“It’s a reminder of who Dr. King was and that he’s still relevant today,” he said.