James K. W. Atherton, a Washingtonian, served as a military photographer in Asia during World War II. He worked in the news business for nearly four decades—first with the United Press International (UPI) wire service and later at the Washington Post covering news events including Watergate and Iran Contra hearings. In his Presidential Picture Stories Dennis Brack, tells the story of how Atherton created this iconic image:

“In 1963, the March on Washington, led by Martin Luther King Jr., was a major story. George Gaylin, the UPI photo bureau chief, had a special assignment for Atherton. The Lincoln Memorial was to be the focal point of the march. A few years before, using a forty-foot extension ladder held by four men, photographer George Tames had made a prize-winning picture from over Lincoln’s shoulder for the New York Times Magazine. Gaylin wanted to try for something similar. . . . When they got to the Lincoln statue the AP photo team was there with a bright, shiny metal pole. (Atherton had a bamboo pole.) Both made pictures . . . but Atherton was not satisfied. He went back to the memorial, put the rig together again, and asked a park ranger to help him hold the pole. It swayed back and forth, but Atherton made his photograph of the Lincoln statue, King, and the crowd filling the National Mall.  Years later, Atherton recalled that the flexibility of the bamboo pole allowed the camera to swing into the position that made the photograph.”

James K. W. Atherton. [Emancipator looks down on demonstrators], August 28, 1963. Gelatin silver print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (028.00.00)
© James Atherton