Former Associated Press photographer recounts capturing the civil rights movement

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ROCKY MOUNT, Va. (WDBJ7) Oh the stories Gene Herrick can tell. And he tells them through pictures. Herrick started working for the Associated Press when he was 16 years old.

“So I went out, took my camera and went out and luckily I got a picture and put it on the wire. And sometime after that the big boss in New York offered me a job as an AP photographer. And I thought, oh my goodness sakes,” said Herrick.

There’s no doubt you’ve seen his work, you just probably didn’t know the face behind it. Like the iconic photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Herrick has hanging in his home office.

“He was just let out of the courthouse. He had been in jail there. So he came down the steps and there was a big throng of people there to meet him, and his wife reached up and kissed him on the cheek. And you knew that was magnanimous and interesting and all the people around were smiling,” Herrick explained.

“I first met Dr. King in 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. He had a tremendous poise about him and his voice was very resounding. And the words that he said were very powerful and that was the total beginning of a nationwide, actually, a worldwide movement,” he said.

Herrick captured many moments during the civil rights movement. Even a photo of Rosa Parks being fingerprinted.

“When you’re absolutely shooting it, it doesn’t seem that significant, it seems like a part of the story. You’ve been arrested, you’re being fingerprinted and so on. But I’m the only one that had it, that I know of,” Herrick said.

For 28 years Herrick worked for the Associated Press. He’s taken thousands of photos, and he’ll be the first to tell you it’s a proud and humbling feeling to be at the right place, at the right time, with just the right angle to capture a moment that will live on forever.