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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired polar extremes of devotion and loathing during his lifetime, but by 1986 the majority of Americans recognized his greatness, and President Ronald Reagan declared the third Monday in January a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King.
Professor Roger Wilkins says of King's legacy, "Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us that the best life to lead is one that is an engaged life with a moral purpose.... I think it is obscene for people to go and sing about Martin Luther King, and then get into SUVs and drive to their big, suburban homes and have a party, and never give a thought to people who are left behind... Here is this black man who was born in the Depression with a silver spoon in his mouth, who devoted himself to the poorest Americans, and who died planning... to make America look at them the way he looked at them, with love."
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King is one of the great heroes of American history. He was and is a moral force. The murderer who shot him down also shot down the possibility of a better future for this world. Where would we be today if King was alive?
Salt Lake City, Utah
I miss him dearly -- such eloquence, such compassion, such passion. This program was superb.
After watching this program, I am more aware of the great level of violence in our lives today. Particularly in the meanness of our attitudes and our words, in our families, at our work, in society in general.
We are still needing to commit ourselves to the principle of love and non-violence as both a means and an end that Dr. King championed.
Dr. King truly believed that it was his mission to save the soul of our country, and he seemed resigned, even content, in giving his life for that cause. As such, he stands in direct contrast to one of the contributors to last week's American Experience program, Reconstruction: The Second Civil War. James Marston, the descendant of a 19th century murdering bigot, spoke with infuriating pride of the exploits of his ancestor. Marston is a reminder that Dr. King's dream must not die.
No doubt our nation has come a long way since 1968.
I feel that he is definitely a legacy. I can remember that day like it was yesterday, and it was horrible.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King profoundly influenced my life. In 1963 during his "I Have a Dream" speech I was an eleven year old boy growing up in suburban Detroit. We had lived in Montreal, Canada until I was five. Arriving in Detroit at five we stayed with our Polish speaking grandparents and spent a lot of time with our Italian speaking grandparents in the multicultural city of Detroit. My God-loving mother taught us that God loves all people and I too was troubled by racial and class injustices I and embraced Dr. King's speech. My adolescence grew more turbulent also as I was faced with the idea of being forced to kill another ethnic group, Vietnamese.
Dr. King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech in 1967 was spoken in the Spirit of God and right on time. I evaded the Vietnam war, leaving school and home only to find a bigger war waging, not in Asia but right here in this Great Society. My heart was torn by the murder of MLKJ and the racial unrest that followed. Tears filled my eyes as I witnessed Detroit burning and the many circumstances that had led up to this, of such a mistreated people.
One special day, after MLKJ's death, a band that I was with was playing at the "Detroit Freedom Festival." That was so special because as our Afro and Caucasian brothers were playing music together on that outdoor stage there, we saw a big limousine pull up to the outside of the crowd. As we were playing the four doors of this limousine opened up at the same time and four big body guards escorted out a stately looking lady who came to visit us, Coretta Scott King. They escorted her to the side of the platform/stage and after we were through playing the music she met us to show her appreciation for our group. That was a partial fulfillment of her husband Martin's inspired dream that would break down the bounds of prejudice and injustice and bring our nation together in a beautiful symphony of brotherhood, knowing that we will be free one day.
All in all Martin Luther King, Jr. allowed the Spirit of God to use him giving his life that we may experience a higher calling of freedom.
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
I have a dream: that white people and black Americans could all get along and be good citizens!!!!!!!!
Breanna age 10 Martin I love you!
Believe Y'all Love, peace, and soul!
This film paints a human portrait of a man who seems to be frozen in time and defined by his "I Have a Dream" speech. People forget he was a fallible, conflicted human being. I think this film can bring people closer to knowing and understanding the real man behind the statues and portraits.
The program gave the impression Dr. King marched into Cicero. He did not. Bob Lucas of Core led the march of 300 young people into Cicero. The pictures you showed were of King's march into Marquette Park in Chicago.
Fr. Bill Flaherty
I wanted to commend PBS on the wonderful documentary, Citizen King. I couldn't take my eyes off of the screen. It was truly moving and inspirational. I found myself in deep thought about MLK and how he sacrificed his life for freedom for all people. I have so much more respect for him and those who fought so hard to advance the civil rights movement.
Although we still have a lot of work to do in this country, I am truly proud to come from such a marvelous legacy of African-Americans who have sown seed into this nation. The speech at Memphis brought tears to my eyes. It was almost like Dr. King knew that his time was coming, and he finally was able to find rest and peace with the Lord. I do believe that's why he spoke so passionately about the "promised land." He had to have known that he was about to enter a place of glory and peace, but he had full confidence that what was started by him would not end with him. I found a new passion burning inside of me to be fair, just and accepting of my fellow American -- no matter what color they are.
Again, I do appreciate you PBS for being the only station who aired anything on Dr. King that day. It's like America is forgetting that all of this happened less than 50 years ago.
I will never forget the riots that followed him everywhere he went. Gee, what a legacy.
I just want to say Citizen King was an excellent show. For the first time I have truly understood what Dr. King lived for all his life. He slept, ate, breathed, and lived for civil rights.
I am embarrassed to say that we (my husband and I) have never voted. I'm 38 and he is turning 40 next month.
After watching the show, I told my husband we will find out how to become registered voters. Dr. King fought for us to have this right and we don't exercise the right. I will be encouraging others that I know that don't vote to exercise their vote this year.
I will be ordering the video for my children to get the concept of what Dr. King was all about. I know they don't teach them in school, so it's up to me to show them.
Again, a great show.
Mrs. Frankie L. Brown
El Paso, Texas
American Experience replies: Citizen King is available on VHS and on DVD from ShopPBS at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=1502772 .
As a black man and a Southerner, I'm eternally grateful for the struggles of the civil rights movement. We must continue the fight.
Dr. Martin Luther King was and is a true American hero. He was a shining light in a world of desperation and despair. His humanity is to be respected and honored.
San Antonio, Texas
Each year I hesitate to watch television on Dr. King's birthday because I shudder to think how disappointed he would be with us. His wonderful face with its serious, intense gaze would, I fear, be bathed in tears. He was so hopeful that by doing right, right would be done in return. He was far too optimistic.
South Bend, Indiana
I met Dr. King briefly, in July 1967 at the Richmond VA airport. I was impressed with his deep humility. He expressed deep gratitude for the tiny little effort I was making in opposition to the Vietnam War. He had lent his name and support to "Vietnam Summer," which was modeled after 1964's Mississippi Summer. I was working in VA with that organization, and recognized how costly to him was his support of the anti-war movement. But he thanked me! I believe his humility arose from the core of his faith and his commitment.
Wilson, North Carolina
I thought the film was magnificently done. For me, it contains the drama, historical facts, and human side of Dr. King. It is one of the most powerful PBS productions I have seen. So much so that I am submitting a contribution to my local PBS station.
Being from Georgia, I've always been familiar with Dr. King and the struggle. I've seen many films and documentaries on him, however this is the first one that caught me totally and in the end, I shed a tear for Jesus, Dr. King, the oppressed, as well as the oppressors. As a Minister of the Gospel, sometimes facing discouragement and heartache, I've come to realize that like Dr. King if you are true to God, that it's all part of God's plan and all we need to do down here is be faithful unto whatsoever cause we stand for in Jesus' name.
Thank you PBS,
Rev. Samuel L. McMillian
I have to commend the people who put this special program together. I figured I would watch part of it and before I knew it I had watched the whole 2 hours and wanted more. It has definitely inspired me to get more involved with the upcoming presidential election. He puts the politicians today to shame. His idealism and sincerity was overwhelming. I am 44 years old and Dr. King is my new hero. I was both deeply moved and saddened by this program.
Northvale, New Jersey
I was born a year later after Dr. King was killed. He was truly the greatest man who lived in this country and the bravest man, to put his own life down, for the cause. Just so that all African-Americans could be free.
You know something, before we had the King holiday, I could remember as a child, that during the month of January we would discuss Dr. King's legacy, in school and what we should do to make the society better. But now since we have the Dr. King holiday, I think it has caused more harm than good. What I mean by that is the schools hardly talk about Dr. King now, now it's just another holiday.
So many blacks today dishonor Dr. King and those who marched and died all in the name of freedom and equality. Simple, many blacks (not all but some) try to get ahead on the job and cut their own brothers' and sisters' throat. Native Africans don't like African-Americans and we don't like them. The inner cities are filled with crime, drugs, poverty and apathy. These weak sports athletes are horrible, all they care about is 100 million dollars and the hell with sticking together and helping other blacks. Rap artists are feeding poisonous music to their own people, so they can go out and commit crimes, based on their rap music. And entertainers are just as bad, like when a cheap movie like "Barbershop" makes fun and puts down the worlds that Dr. King has done. Has Ice Cube and Cedric ever put their life down in the name of freedom? Hell no! They have benefited from the hard struggle and work that Dr. King has done. (I will not see Barbershop 2.)
All I can say is Dr. King was a brave man... I wish he was still here.
The night of Dr. King's death, I was walking from class on Brooklyn College's Bedford Ave. campus. I was 18 days away from being 20. A white student I did not know passed me and said, "You better git somewhere! They done killed Martin Luther King." I continued to walk to the bus stop. The man's news both saddened and angered me. All these years later, I learn from your program that Dr. King's heart was that of a 60-year-old; and all the sadness, anger I felt in 1968 came right back, leaving me with a familiar ache in my heart. It hurts to know that we -- people of every ethnic group -- have allowed ourselves to slip back to the sameness of what broke and wore out Dr. King's heart: our treating each other with disrespect and ugliness, insidious traits so deeply ingrained in our country's fabric that many feel no lasting change can come. God gives us the best of the best, and we kill it on a balcony in a little southern town.
I had an opportunity to meet Dr. King upon his visit to Louisville, Ky. during the sixties. One of his close aides extended the invitation to me every time he came to my record shop. Every time I see Dr. King's funeral on T.V., I see Dr. King's aide that would extend me the invitation to meet Dr. King, in front of the casket leading and holding the guide of the horse.
Black people have always had a relapse of the struggle of the past. We are reminded every day by different types of information but adhere to nothing. Songs were put out by black singers who tried to wake black people up. James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, and Teddy Pendergrass being a voice from God. But black people danced to the melody not giving any attention to the true meaning of the message. Books about the experiences of the blacks who struggled in the past are soon removed from the book stores and libraries because young blacks find no guide to them. And old blacks find the past struggles an embarrassment. But today they had better take a look at what message Dr. King was trying to get out before he was killed. They have been tricked by the smooth talking blacks and the white man's government that every thing is all right. But those smooth talking blacks are loosing their jobs today.
I would encourage all blacks to stand on the truth just as Dr. King did and don't take a seat in the back of the black struggles. Thanks for listening.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was probably one of the greatest American leaders of the 20th century. He sacrificed his mind, body, and soul, for the liberation of the American Negro....
Despite his personal faults, nothing like his revolutionary spirit has dawned the shores of American freedom, since this great leader was assassinated. But his "Dream" is indeed now an American nightmare for the American Negro, who has less freedom now, than in 1968, when there was an actual "War On Poverty," and a welfare system for poor people.
Now the American Negro, who calls himself an African-American, but has no ties to Africa, nor is he recognized as an American citizen, because the Civil Rights Act has to be renewed every twenty years, since it was simply an Executive Order, there can be no freedom, or justice for the American Negro, only segregation, poverty, incarcerations, diseases, homeless blues, and permanent unemployment, backed by a segregated system, of racial oppression which makes the American Negro unemployable, under-paid, and dying before retirement age.
In order to give your television audience a more well-rounded perspective on the civil rights movement, I encourage you to air the Malcolm X and James Baldwin interviews in their entirety. By listening to these three diverse viewpoints, viewers will better appreciate the differences between them, but most importantly discover some similarities.
American Experience replies: Though we can't obtain PBS air time to re-broadcast those historic 1963 interviews on television, they are permanently posted and available in their entirety here on the Citizen King Web site, in the Special Feature titled, Three Perspectives.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy of civil disobedience to implement social change is true on a global scale as well, and is the only way to affect long-term societal change.
If only other leaders in today's world would have the maturity and morality to adopt a policy of non-violence, the dreams of all peoples, summarized by MLK as "three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits," would be realized.
Martin Luther King Jr. is a big idol for me. I want to follow his footsteps and make his dream come alive.
Well I really liked the movie. It was interesting to watch. I think that they should have the movie on more than once a year because the show can teach people how racism is a very bad thing and that it can lead to many violent things around the world. Some people may not believe me but I believe in myself and I will speak my mind if it is good or bad.
Anyway this is a very, very good movie and is important for people to know what he did was right and he shouldn't have been killed for something he believes in. And what he believed in is what he did right, believing in what the people could do to make America and the world a better place to live in no matter where they live or if they are poor. What Martin Luther King did was right and that is all that matters.
West Des Moines, Iowa
Martin Luther King was a great man.
I was a kid when King started marching through Chicago. We had a place in Chicago at that time. I remember thinking that I wondered if King was going to march through our neighborhood. I think I remember Mayor Daley Sr. talking about Dr. King. I wondered if King was going to disrupt our neighborhood. I think I remember his talking about non-violence at that time.
I wasn't born until 1962 but grew up in Shreveport, LA where, luckily, I didn't see racism to the extent it was in other areas of the United States. I didn't have any problems with the black folks I went to school with, most problems were from my white peers. I'm grateful to Dr. King for all he was able to accomplish given the opposition he had to deal with. I think Citizen King should be required viewing for all Americans.
John L. Wenk
Thank you for such a powerful and interesting program. It just confirmed what I have always felt -- that Dr. King was the greatest American of our time -- maybe of all time.
After Jesus the best role model to me is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There are several reasons why; first of all him using the method of non-violence helped the civil rights movement but the method also exemplified the kind of person that Dr. King was. Secondly, Dr. King urged each individual to examine themselves. Finally just as Jesus did, in the midst of hatred Dr. King showed love by giving up his life.
I am very proud of Dr. King's life and legacy. He will remain as a primary example of a fighter for freedom, civil rights and justice.
The new generation has got a tremendous opportunity to learn from the life of Dr. King.
Thanks for producing and airing one of the best all-time television documentaries. The quality and thoroughness of the broadcast left me astounded, tearful, and enlightened.
My question, though, is simple: why don't most businesses celebrate MLK Day? I live in the South, so I'm not sure if other regions of our country also do not celebrate this national holiday. Is there an underlying reason why firms choose to not celebrate this man of peace? After all, most offices are closed for every other national and Christian holiday.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Growing up as a child in the 50s and a teen in the 60s, I watched our country in turmoil over civil rights. During my teens I stood in my beauty college in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and watched the colored riot in the streets. In so many ways I wanted to join them. But their rage put fear in me as I was a young white girl.
Dr. King is the single most influential person in my life and my character. I truly love the man deep in my soul and try to live to his words.
I was very fortunate to have been taught by my parents that bigotry was unacceptable. I'm so thankful for that. If only we could elect a person like Dr. King into the White House. The world would be a much better place.
My love and respect to the whole King family. I, too, lost a powerful force in my life when the Great King was assassinated, and I will mourn his death until I too am gone.
Shell Knob, Missouri
I grew up during the 60s and I long for leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King!
We are still in need of a movement to challenge today's major problems in society such as health care disparity, health care coverage, off shoring of American jobs, racial profiling, lack of housing, inequality in the educating of our children, unfair corporate tactics etc...
America in all its arrogance has got the nerve to be trying to correct the ills of another nation (Iraq)... please! We have plenty of problems here at home that need lots of TLC. The present administration is business as usual and are totally unaware (or just don't care) of the plight of most Americans let alone the minority population.
The legacy of Dr. King must continue or we will never achieve the dream that he and so many others died for. We've come a long way but there is still a long way to go! We must not back down until we reach the summit of the mountain!
Greenwood Village, Colorado
I think Martin Luther King was the greatest man on earth and if he was alive today I would want to meet him. He did a lot of great things. I don't think anyone would forget it. All the marches he did were amazing and the speech he made was incredible the greatest thing I've ever read or heard in my whole life.
Every now and then the Lord will use a person/persons to hold the banner of justice according to His will. As so, when it's time for a change, He'll find somebody willing to fight the good fight in love and peace. Dr. King was that person. God is looking for a few bold soldiers, prayer warriors to battle in this spiritual war. Behold! There are some more. Even now, it's a struggle, yea! A Good Struggle!
Willie James Brown Jr.
Greenville, North Carolina
I remember the civil rights movement like it was yesterday. My parents kept the T.V. on for us to stay updated. My mother, Dorothy Foreman-Mason, would explain what was going on. My life has been better because I remember and honor Dr. King and his dream. I work daily on making the dream a reality in my home, family, church, community and place of employment, because I know that we all can make a difference when you stand for what is right. I know that the fight for civil rights is not over and we must keep on fighting. I will never stop dreaming the dream and I thank God for using Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the civil rights movement in America and his stand against violence, poverty and war.
I remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Sharon L. Mason-Ford
Fort Worth, Texas
As I watched the description of Dr. King's final days before his assassination, I had the impression that he was quite aware of the time and manner of his death (much like St. Peter). Is this thought shared by others, or is it unique?
Salt Lake City, Utah
The film showed me a side of Dr. King, a relaxed side, humorous, serious side, a person of character, a man who saw death and still he spoke out to help others see what was shown to him. He was a light in darkness when people need a light. He was and is now a prophet, whose words shall never die. Only a person who calls out for such a time could do what was his destiny. I pray that we too shall find our place and walk it out.
I was very moved by the program and appreciated the information about King's work in Chicago and his anti-Vietnam stance. I will share the website with my students. Thank you so much for an excellent program.
Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy is often remembered as being simply about black and white. In viewing Citizen King it becomes abundantly clear that this man's message was far more universal and relevant in nature. His decision to stand against the Vietnam war and equate American aggression abroad to American aggression at home in the midst of significant opposition is a tribute to his dedication to truth. His speech about the danger of America's unilateral action in Vietnam and its effects abroad in diminishing America's goodwill is as poignant today as it ever was.
Sadly, the great words and ideas of Dr. King faded into the periphery upon his death. We should take the time to remember his entire message as he said it, and not how it has been spoon-fed to us. If we do we will see that we have taken many steps back since his death.
San Francisco, California
I'd like to hear from people who participated in the non-violent demonstrations about their analysis of where we are as a nation now. Have we reached a place of moral destitution? I'd also like to hear from people who lived through the Watts Riots about their lives and their families' lives now.
Los Angeles, California
He was a prophet and a prophetic voice to the peoples and the nations. He lived out the message of Christ and is the kind of warrior that the Lord still searches for today, one who believes in the power of forgiveness and love in action. He speaks today to those brave souls who hear with spiritual ears, see with spiritual eyes and walk on blessed feet following after Christ.
Many think peacemaking is passive, but I tell you, the peacemakers are in the fields even today -- carrying the peace of God in them to the nations in great turmoil. Martin Luther King had the peace in him and that is why he could do so much good and never tire of it. Many are proclaiming peace with profound anger and hatred in their hearts, but truly, King loved the people, the nation and his God and found hope and a message of passion out of that. God Bless his inheritance that still lives today -- may they serve God as faithfully and loyally as he did and may we all hear, just as he did, "Well done good and faithful servant..."
What an excellent documentary. As an MLK admirer, I actually learned some things I did not know before watching this special.
Dr. King was such an extraordinary human being and my heart is touched every time I think about what he did and the risks he took. He was before his time in much of his thinking, especially about the Vietnam War and the universality of peace, nonviolence and freedom. You see where he constantly worked towards those ends even when he was disheartened. I haven't witnessed that level of commitment in many people these days.
I thank God that the civil rights movement came from Baptists preachers who loved this country warts and all and thought they could make it better.
HI! I am a student at Clark Atlanta Student film school. This was the best program I have seen in a long time. Being African coming to America was to me like a dream and every opportunity that I have today is because of great people like Dr. King who dedicated his life fighting for what he believed was the right thing.
I was very shocked and tears fell out of my eyes suddenly. I could almost feel the spirit of our ancestors. Every race that suffered from social injustice can relate to Dr. King. The program was informative and well organized I am proud of every member of the organization that gave us the opportunity to watch the program. Thank you...
I grew up in the civil rights era. I was born in 1953. My mother was a political activist and always working for civil rights for all people.
I remember an incident in the early sixties which had an impression on me. We belonged to a swimming pool in suburban Maryland. One day my mother brought our babysitter, who was black, to the swimming pool. When we were leaving, the woman at the desk told her not to bring our babysitter back again. My mother was livid. She told the woman that if they had such a racist policy, she would see to it that everyone she knew, which was most of the people who belonged to the pool, quit their membership and did not renew the next year. The woman went over to talk to the manager. She then came back and said that they had changed their minds.
I am a middle-aged white woman who grew up under segregation and who greatly appreciates Dr. King and his legacy. I did not and do not believe that people should be separated because of race or even of class. Now I have come to appreciate his legacy of active non-violence and his stand for peace. I believe that he is a man for our time, who has things to say and to teach us in the present situation of our country and our world. May Peace Prevail On Earth. May God's kingdom come.
Anne G. Woodhead
I was 7 when he died, the school let us out in the middle of the day and locked the doors behind us because all the white teachers were scared. I could not find my older sister who had the key to the house. We lived on a street of clothing and food stores. By the time I made it home everything was on fire. People were breaking windows and taking whatever they wanted. My sister was not home. I could not get in. I went to a truck yard near our home, got in the back of one and cried until I fell asleep. It was after dark when a security officer took me home to my mother and sister.
I refuse to work on that day. King like many great men died for freedom, equality, and civil rights for all of us. It is shameful not to take a moment and reflect on God's gift Rev. MLK.
All died early, all great men!!!!
Lets take time to reflect and react!!!!
Great Job PBS! This series should be part of every history class in America.
Until I watched the documentary last night, I had considered Gil Noble's documentary the best I had seen. American Experience's Citizen King was the best I have seen on the subject.
I remember King coming to Paterson the night of March 27, 1968. I was a 2nd grader at the time, caught up in the excitement, but not really knowing who Dr. King was or what he really meant.
The 1960s was the most important decade of the 20th century, with Dr. King and Malcolm X as the two greatest leaders -- although with different methods.
American Experience is the best series on television and I watch it consistently. Excellent work, PBS!!
Paterson, New Jersey
Other than Jesus Christ, Dr. Martin Luther King is probably the biggest influence in my life. As a youth minister, I have the pleasure of mentoring teens as they grow toward adulthood. One of the attitudes that I am passionate about passing on to youth is the attitude of acceptance and racial harmony. I like to think that I am carrying on the legacy of Dr. King. I look to Dr. King as Moses, who led his people out of the captivity of racial injustice but didn't enter the promise land because of his untimely death. I like to think that I and others will be like Joshua, who led the people into the promised land of racial equality, tolerance and harmony. I pray that Dr. King's dream will be a reality in the hearts of all and that peace and love will indeed rule.
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