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JIM LEHRER: And now some closing words about Martin Luther King, whose birthday is being celebrated today, a documentary that focuses on the last five years of his life airs tonight on PBS’s “American Experience”. It’s called “Citizen King.” Here is an excerpt from 1963 after Dr. King was jailed in Birmingham, Ala.
WYATT T. WALKER: They had Dr. King in solitary confinement. And he was incensed at the article that five or six clergymen in Birmingham had put in the local paper, criticizing Dr. King for coming … that it wasn’t a good time and all of that business. But it was always the old arguments of the status quo.
CLARENCE JONES: He wanted to respond, and so he used the time in jail to respond. That was the so-called letter from the Birmingham jail.
MARTIN LUTHER KING’S LETTER BEING READ.: My dear fellow clergymen, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is the threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever effects one directly affects all indirectly.
TAYLOR BRANCH: Dr. King comes out of the Birmingham jail. He’s written a letter. He’s put himself on the line. He’s invited suffering. And it still didn’t make any difference. But James Bevel is coming to King, saying, “We’re out of jail volunteers. Your going to jail didn’t produce the ones that we hoped it would. But if you’re out of adults, I’ve got high school students,” because he’s holding these youth meetings.
RUTH BAREFIELD-PENDLETON: Andy Young and James Bevel wanted permission to use the children, and in the beginning Dr. King was opposed to using the children. But Bevel and Andy Young prevailed.
MICHAEL DIZAAR: I listened to him speak, you know, and watch him, just see, you know, how he would sweat, and how powerful he sounded. You know, just the impact on what he said, the words just stayed there in the air, you know, as he talked.
GENEVA JONES: He took all of the fear out. Even though he was talking with doing serious things here in the city of Birmingham, he took all of the fear out of you. (Gospel singing)
JACK GREENBERG: The people in the rest of the country who would exhibit pictures of fire hoses and police dogs attacking children and black citizens were in a very dramatic way exposed to just exactly what racism meant, and how fiercely the South was defending it.
SPOKESMAN: Martin King was convinced, and the people of Birmingham would not tolerate police acting in their name, slamming little girls up against the wall with fire hoses and having dogs attack kids. They grew up in segregation, and they may not have agreed with them, but there’s a limit.
REPORTER: Dr. King, how big a victory is this for the American Negro?
MARTIN LUTHER KING: Well, I think this is a very significant victory, not only for the American Negro, but for the country.