Friends of Moneta Sleet Jr. described the Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist as a man who invariably disarmed his subjects with a gentle disposition and a ready smile.
If Sleet's iconic images of the civil rights movement suggest compassion for those on the other side of his lens, they also captured his own commitment to the struggle.
Sleet, who was 70 and living in Baldwin at the time of his death in 1996, was commemorated at a panel discussion Monday at the African American Museum of Nassau in Hempstead. The museum is hosting an exhibition of civil rights photography by Sleet and others until March 31.
The 20 pictures by Sleet depict a wide range of people and events across the South, from the landmark 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery to the anonymous activists displaying wounds or bursting out in song.
The exhibition also includes the photo that made Sleet the first African-American to win the Pulitzer, in 1969. It is a portrait of Coretta Scott King and her then 5-year-old daughter Bernice at King's funeral in 1968.
Sleet, a photographer with Ebony and Jet magazines for decades, also captured intimate moments between King and his family, like the civil rights leader and Coretta Scott King singing as they sat at a piano with their infant daughter Yolanda.
Sleet "often tries to make King an ordinary person" by framing him in such settings, or as one in a mass of people, said museum director and curator David Byer-Tyre.
It was Sleet's sensitive approach to his subjects that made such candid work possible, said photographer Anthony Barboza, who credits Sleet with teaching him about that part of the craft.
"I realized the most important thing about photographing is not even so much your eyes and how you see. . . . It's about the feeling you bring from yourself to the subject," Barboza said.
Sleet's daughter, Lisa, of Baldwin, who established a foundation in his name, said he didn't talk much about these feelings. Instead, he focused on efforts to bring about change. "During the movement, throughout all the stress and tensions that were going on," she said, "instead of anguish, he would try to bring out the positive."