Sunday, April 06, 2008

History Channel: King (review)

Tonight, April 6, 2008, The History Channel aired the two-hour “King” with Tom Brokaw, link here.

The documentary starts with the observation is that African Americans are the one minority literally defined and brought into our country’s history by slavery, and toward the end, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice makes her metaphor that the slavery issue, and subsequent segregation, amounts to America’s “birth defect.”

The film traces Dr. Martin Luther King ‘s entire career, from Baptist minister to political justice advocate. Despite popular perception, the Baptist denomination has always been concerned about social justice issues (with the split that led to the Southern Baptist Convention a real anomaly in its history). The first part focuses on the civil rights marches, especially in Alabama. It gives a detailed history of the Selma to Montgomery March, and of the problems in Birmingham, even leading to martial law. The film summarizes the disappearance and murder of three civil rights workers in 1964 during the voting rights activity (the subject of the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning.” The film shows the complacent statements of southern whites from the era as to what they “do” for “Negroes”. It shows a lot of actual black-and-white footage of the activism, the police brutality, and the arrests; it seems more effective shown this way than it could be in any modern Hollywood recreation. The action would move to northern cities after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with the emphasis on poverty. Walter Fauntroy is quoted as saying that support of Civil Rights became basic self-interest even for Whites. Andrew Young also appears.

King knew how to use television, getting as much march and police activity compressed into 90-second news spots for nationwide network television as possible, and this had the effect of forcing southern newspapers to report the news honestly. Network television amounted to the Internet of its day. His receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1964 is shown.

King had been wounded early in life, and had a cross-shaped scar on his chest, and did not expect to live past 40. The film briefly covers the assassination in Memphis in 1968 (presumably) by James Earl Ray.

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