King, the March, the Dream: PBS debuts must-see ‘March’ (and more)

The 1963 March on Washington DC with Martin Luther King on the Mall photo from NARATHE PBS NETWORK is offering terrific opportunities to reflect on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the 1963 March on Washington and the famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

FIRST—BE SURE TO TUNE IN: PBS provides this interactive web page to help viewers sort out local listings. Remember that PBS showtimes may vary widely. Focus on the evening of Tuesday, August 27, the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Most PBS stations will air an hour-long White House Concert featuring Natalie Cole, Bob Dylan, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, John Mellencamp, Smokey Robinson, Seal, the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Howard University Choir. The crescendo of that evening on most PBS stations is a new hour-long documentary—The March.

REVIEW of The March
by Read The Spirit Editor David Crumm

Dr Martin Luther King Jr preparing for 1963 March on Washington photo from NARAThe March, narrated by Denzel Washington, includes powerful scenes: Certainly, King himself, plus a wide array of men and women involved in the March. Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando and Diahann Carroll were among the famous media figures who took part on that summer day in 1963. So, there are many celebrities who help to tell this dramatic story.

Having reviewed The March before its broadcast, ReadTheSpirit can highly recommend the documentary. Producers of the film include such top names as Robert Redford and Harry Belafonte’s daughter Gina Belafonte. With such steady hands behind the film, The March does not make the mistake of turning this 1963 milestone into a nostalgic snapshot of pop stars. Viewers who know their civil rights history will be pleased to see A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979)—”universally recognized as the dean of the civil rights movement”—introduced as a part of this epic story. We also meet Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) as a key—and, as it turned out, a controversial—figure in this phase of the civil rights movement. As the story unfolds, we also are reminded of the strong challenge to the Kennedy administration that this march represented.

In other words, the story is accurately—and movingly—told.

King first appears in the film’s opening sequence—as we see footage of various buses and other vehicles on the move toward Washington. We sense the excitement of the people who dared to gather. In these opening moments, King appears on screen explaining how difficult it was to tell his daughter that she could not go to play in an amusement park that she heard other children were planning to visit. “To attempt to explain a system like the unjust and evil system of segregation to a 6 year old child is a very difficult thing,” King says.

Of course, that is the human level on which millions of Americans began to truly understand the evils of segregation. Americans saw bigots attacking innocent men, women and young people with clubs, dogs and fire hoses. The nightly TV news broadcast in millions of American living rooms showed these horrific scenes, as veteran TV correspondent Roger Mudd explains in The March. Watching violence unleashed on men, women and even on children helped to turn the tide toward civil rights.

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan as they performed at the 1963 March on Washington with Martin Luther King Photo from NARAAs the film unfolds—yes, we do get to see clips of Joan Baez’s stirring songs, both solo and with Bob Dylan. Yes, we do see Harry Belafonte working his organizational magic among celebrities. We see Burt Lancaster dramatically unfurl a long and billowing petition for change in America.

But, we also see the complex and suspenseful behind-the-scenes challenges. We learn that U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the last living speaker who took the stage at the March, almost derailed the whole event that day in 1963. Some lines in an advance copy of Lewis’s talk were considered so explosive that several key speakers threatened to bolt in the middle of that historic event. Of course, all of us know what happened—the March ran its course until finally King could unleash his Dream. Even Oprah Winfrey shows up to help narrate the drama of that now-so-famous speech.

“It was the first time that most Americans had ever heard a complete King speech,” the film’s narrator tells us. And, what a speech it was! Even if you can rattle off the words by heart, don’t miss this documentary that tells the story of how it all happened—and how America changed, as a result.

ALSO—CHECK OUT THE WEB-BASED SERIES:
PBS The MARCH@50

The highly respected young filmmaker Shukree Tilghman developed this Web-based series for PBS. In an online landing page for The March@50, PBS describes the Web-based project this way:

“Fifty years after the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, has America delivered on the marchers’ demands for Jobs, Freedom, Equal Education and Voting Rights? In the documentary Web series The March@50, filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman explores this question with a critical eye. Each short episode in the series examines a theme of the 1963 March on Washington through a contemporary lens. These short documentaries look at how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go to address the major issues of the Civil Rights Era all these decades later.”

NOTE ON PHOTOS: Many photos from the civil rights era are held in private collections and archives. In covering the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963, ReadTheSpirit has chosen to publish primarily photographs from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which is “our own” national archive of materials for public use.

CARE TO READ MORE?

EXPLORE THE HISTORIC MILESTONE: Stephanie Fenton’s Holidays & Festivals column reports on major religious holidays and cultural milestones—including this in-depth look at the way Americans are remembering the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

READ THE COMIC BOOK: There’s no kidding in this comic book! As our story explains, it’s the true story of the civil rights movement—leading to the March on Washington—as told by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the last remaining speaker who addressed the crowd on the Mall 50 years ago.

(This film review and coverage of PBS broadcasts was originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online journal covering religion, spirituality and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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