New Orleans civil rights advocate, Rev. Samson “Skip” Alexander is a legend among the many leaders who have helped affect social change. Samson was a close friend of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and he is responsible for the treasured photo capturing Coretta Scott King, sitting front row with her children mourning her husband’s death. Samson had taken and retains many historical images. It is no surprise that he is the owner of this momentous photograph.
Rev. Samson aka “Skip” recalls that day where the FBI was on patrol, lurking for misconduct and suspicious behavior.
“They were hurt about their father’s passing. As we marched to Morehouse College for his memorial, I remember them looking somber as if they were sleep walking” said Rev. Samson. Legendary boxing champ Muhammad Ali, President Richard Nixon were among many of the influential people to flow from the balcony of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where Dr. King’s funeral was held.
“There were dignitaries at his funeral,” Sampson recalled.
“Kings and queens from all around the world (Africa and India) came to show their respects for Dr. King.”
Samson had a hand in the funeral’s seating process, he said. He was also among the news press, accompanying Ebony Magazine, Pittsburg Courier, The Chicago Defender and Life and Times. “I was in charge of placing thousands people from around the world in the backyard of the church” he said.
“The FBI had told me I could not take any pictures because of the flash. The flash would spark concerns of gun firing at Dr. Kings memorial.”
Not likely to abide by law officials, he went ahead and took the picture.
“I was able to use light that was available to me. I learned this technique in the air force,” said Rev. Samson. Not wanting to get caught taking a picture. He gave the photo to someone unknown at the time, later to be someone from JET magazine.
Samson seems modest about his accomplishments, remaining humble and down to earth through all his triumphs.
“I was nobody special,” he stated when asked about his triumphs.
“I did not think I was making history at the time. We were doing what was needed during that time. We knew that in order to be free, we had to fight for desegregation.”
He candidly recalls the day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.
“I was stunned and dumb founded. The FBI told me not to leave. I remember blood coming down the 2nd floor. I was a young guy” said Rev. Samson.
King had been the president of the Southern Christian Leadership (SCLC). Rev. Samson worked for the International Representatives of the American Federation of the Sate County and Municipal employees AFI-CIO.
“SCLC had no money and we would help them raise money for the organization, while he spoke to unions” he said.
In Memphis, Rev. Samson conducted a strike with the sanitation workers. Coincidently this was done while staying at the Lorraine Hotel where King was staying when he was assassinated. His goal, to get sanitation cards signed, was short lived by the incident.
Many were uncertain if the Civil Rights Movement could go on. Rev. Samson had his doubts that the movement would not be as effective with King gone. “I thought so. No other man in the world was spontaneous as he was. He could rally up a crowd. He could bring together good men and bad men”. Dr. King was a phenomenal man.
Sampson fondly remembers the police shouting at him to get out of the way.
“I had no identification or anything,” he said.
“I ‘boguarded’ my way through. I had to take the picture, even if I was going to jail.”