From left, Ralph Abernathy, James Forman, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Jesse Douglas and John Lewis lead a march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, in a scene from the Paramount documentary “I Am MLK Jr.”
Toggle caption Photo by Steve Schapiro

Salamishah Tillet for the NY Times: Seeing Martin Luther King Jr. in a New Light

50 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Price Institute's Salamishah Tillet explores three recent documentaries that shed light on often-ignored aspects of his life and message. 

From the essay:

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., more than most civil rights leaders, understood the singular role that television played in documenting the brutality of racial violence on African-Americans and eliciting sympathy from white viewers. As three new television documentaries marking the 50th anniversary of his assassination show, King embraced prime time news television coverage as a matter of political strategy and survival through his savvy use of sound bites, well-timed protests and the practice of nonviolence in the face of abuse.

These documentaries share much in common. They feature some familiar civil rights voices, most notably those of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee activists John Lewis and Diane Nash, and reveal how King’s relationships with the news media and the movement waned dramatically in his final years. And they attempt to present a more radical version of King to a new generation of viewers, with varying degrees of success.