Moneta J. Sleet Jr., 70, winner of Pulitzer Prize for photography


Moneta J. Sleet Jr., who picked up a box camera while attending segregated schools in Kentucky and went on to become the first black to win journalism's top prize, for documenting the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr., died of cancer Monday in New York City. He was 70.

In 1969, he won a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography after capturing the forlorn image of a veiled Coretta Scott King cradling her 5-year-old daughter on a crowded church pew.

Although he spent the bulk of his career documenting America's slow march toward racial equality, he was almost denied the chance to take the photograph.

When a pool of photographers was selected to cover Dr. King's funeral in 1968, not one black was included until Mrs. King spoke up.

Mr. Sleet, a tall, willowy man who traveled the world for Ebony and Jet magazines, was born in Owensboro, Ky. He earned a master's degree in journalism from New York University in 1950 after completing a business degree at Kentucky State in 1947 and helping to set up the photography department at Maryland State College -- now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

In 1955, he was tapped by Ebony's parent, Johnson Publishing Co., where he worked at the time of his death.

His colleagues said the pictures Mr. Sleet liked best were of ordinary people. His favorite photograph was one he took of a woman, clapping her hands with her eyes tightly closed, as she walked in the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

Pub Date: 10/03/96

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