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Eric Kulberg Ignored Racial Epithets And Photographed MLK's March On Washington

6:07 PM, Aug 26, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Fifty years ago, Eric Kulberg asked his boss if he could go to the March on Washington. His boss replied with a racial epithet -- but let him go anyway.

The young photographer ended up in the press box yards away from Martin Luther King Jr as he delivered the "I Have A Dream" speech.

"This is one of the ones I like so much," says Kulberg, picking up a framed photo on display at the Carnegie Library. It shows two white marchers with arms around an African American man. They're holding a guitar and their mouths are split with big grins.

Eric Kulberg captured the sheer elation of the march. 

"You just see the joy on people's faces that day. Nothing weird about it at all. But surrounding it, National Guard and things like they are really expecting trouble."

The 18-year-old junior cartographer at the Bureau of Land Management had only been in DC for a few months after leaving his home in Alaska. He was obsessed with jazz and R&B, and he'd been listening as the urban radio stations talked up the march.

He started on the roof and made his way down to the street. "I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, and suddenly was surrounded by people."

He had no credentials, but somehow wormed his way up to the press platform and grabbed a shot of folksinger Joan Baez. And a wide shot of what up to then had been one of the largest protests ever on the Mall. "I took the photograph, and I also realized I was getting low on film." 

So as Martin Luther King started to speak, he put down his camera and just listened. "It had such an impact on me personally, it made me realize I wanted to do more with my life than just work in television."

It changed his life, but he wishes it had done even more to change the world. "I see advances. But we still have a long way to go," said Kulberg.

Kulberg's photos are on display through Thursday at least at the Carnegie Library and Historical Society of Washington.

He's participating in a panel talk on the march tomorrow night at the Carnegie Library across from the Convention Center.

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