In the blistering hot Chicago summer of 1966, a young police officer took on one of his most important assignments. The officer: Barry Batson, 32, a new father with a second child on the way. His job: to guard the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., bringing his non-violent protest movement to a city where segregated housing was a way of life.
Batson's wife, Helen, remembers that time: "The word in the streets was that somebody would try to kill Dr. King in Chicago. My husband said 'It's not going to happen on my watch.' "
King then was 37 years old, determined that his dedication to civil rights, which had already earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, could expand from its southern base to find even more success in cities in the north.
Art Shay, a prolific photographer for Time and Life magazine, captured an image of King at a July rally in Soldier Field in Chicago. To King's right is a tall, thin officer, in fedora and suit: Barry Batson.
A few weeks ago, Batson's daughter-in-law, was jogging past the Thomas Masters gallery on North Avenue in Old Town and was stunned when she recognized her husband's father in the photo.
William Mullen of The Chicago Tribune describes what happened next (Image holds strong memories for family of King bodyguard):
"I just saw the strangest thing," Cox-Batson told her husband, Barry, when she returned from her run, "a picture of your dad in a gallery window, a photograph when he was with Dr. King."
The chance discovery sent Barry Batson out the door for a look. What he found was the best image he had ever seen of his late father at work, on the most important and dangerous assignment Barry Batson Sr. ever had as a Chicago police officer.
It was one of 90 photos in the first all-color exhibit by legendary Chicago photographer Art Shay, three of which showed King in Chicago on a visit that touched countless people.
But for the Batsons, the one image unleashed an emotional torrent of memories about the African-American family's connection to a remarkable moment in city history, and how Barry Batson Sr. spent every waking hour for weeks with one of the 20th century's most important figures, trying to protect him from harm.
King was safe that summer in Chicago. He was assassinated two years later in Memphis, and Shay covered the early minutes of the police investigation as well as the days and nights of riots.
The moment that drew together the three men, Batson, King and Shay, echoes across the decades for gallery visitors. The Batsons named their second child, born during that same hot summer of 1966, Barry Jr. He married Stephanie Cox, who happened to go for a mid-winter jog that led to a discovery that made sure the moment from 44 years ago is reverberating even more deeply for the Batson family.