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Moneta J. Sleet, Jr.: Pulitzer Prize Photojournalist

black and white photograph,1953
Moneta J. Sleet, Jr. (1926-1996)
Collection of the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art

In 1994, the Owensboro museum of fine art invited Moneta Sleet, an Owensboro native who was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism, to present an exhibition of his photography at the museum. In 1995, Mr. Sleet visited the museum and made plans for acquiring a large collection of his photographic prints to be presented in 1997.

The exhibition of 126 photographs was organized by the Schomburg center of the New York public library. Mr. Sleet died before the opening of the exhibition. His widow, Mrs. Juanita Sleet, helped arrange for the museum’s acquisition of two of his works for the permanent collection. Those works presently hang in the museum’s photography gallery.

A series of photography roundtables celebrating Mr. Sleet’s style and technique, led by prominent regional photographers, were held at the museum during the course of the exhibition.

The exhibition prompted special investigative reporting by Keith Lawrence and Bob Bruck of the Owensboro messenger-inquirer. The subject of the investigation was one of the photographs “The Little Girl” acquired for the museum’s collection. It depicts a young girl standing in an alley in Blue Heaven, West Virginia in 1953. The reporters located the girl as an adult and arranged to photograph her in the same location in West Virginia as the original image. An article was published in the local newspaper in October, 1997, telling the story of the reporter’s investigative efforts.

The story and photographs from the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer along with the original photograph “The Little Girl” are currently on display in the museum’s Marilyn and William Young 20th Century Gallery.