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10 Moving & Informative Documentaries About Martin Luther King Jr.

Honor the civil rights hero's legacy by watching these moving and informative documentaries.

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With Martin Luther King Jr. Day upon us, it's important to remember the events that led up to the march on Washington, MLK's leadership for a broken nation, and why we consider Dr. King a prominent hero who is a crucial figure in the story of American history. If you're looking to reflect on the holiday by educating yourself even further on the man and the causes that he fought for, here are some great must-watch documentaries about Martin Luther King Jr. to add to your queue.

Showcasing the life and activism of the legendary civil rights leader, these documentaries offer a true, raw, and historical account of the events that occurred spanning from MLK's journey into leadership, to his famous speech, and his eventual assassination. To gather a real sense of the segregation and events leading up to what has now been marked a federal holiday, take some time to hear others' accounts, understand what was going on, and remember those citizens who were involved in a movement that was much needed — and in some sense, still is — within the nation.

As MLK Day approaches, here are a few important and moving documentaries for you to check out.


The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306

This film tells the story of MLK's assassination and the days leading up to it through the eyes of reverend Samuel "Billy" Kyles, who witnessed the brutal event from the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Perhaps one of the most moving elements of the documentary is the inclusion of words from civil rights luminaries like Dr. Benjamin Hooks and Maxine Smith.

To view this documentary, you can purchase a physical copy from Amazon.


The March

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is always one of my favorite sources for information, documentaries, and general educational content, which is why it's no surprise The March is a must-watch. This documentary is a film about the march on Washington. However, the perspective is the truly interesting piece. Told by those who organized or participated in the march, this documentary offers a unique and personal account for many underdogs.

You can view it on the PBS’ website and clips from the documentary on YouTube.


King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis

The really raw and historically-relevant thing about this MLK documentary is that it only uses original newsreel and "other primary material, unvarnished and unretouched," according to Sundance Now. The documentary covers the period from the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 all the way to MLK's assassination in 1968.

To watch the documentary, you can rent it from YouTube or Amazon Video for $3.99 or purchase a digital copy from YouTube or Amazon Video for $9.99. If you have a Kanopy account through your local library or university, you can also stream the documentary for free.


The Movement Begins: One Dream Documentary

As a series of five shorts created by TIME, this One Dream documentary covers the beginning of a movement, when the stakes are at their highest, and MLK delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech, which is a lasting legacy. Representing just a piece of the rich series, MLK speechwriter Clarence Jones recounted, "Prior to Martin Luther King, Jr, the United States was like a dysfunctional drug addict or alcoholic. It'd become addicted to racial segregation." The documentary goes on to unfold the events that occurred surrounding and following Dr. King's speech.

You can view part one, two, three, four, and five on YouTube.


The Bus

According to TIME, a little-known filmmaker named Haskell Wexler traveled by bus from San Francisco to the March on Washington in August of 1963. He created a documentary of his journey called The Bus, which shares video from the trip and march.

You can pay $3 for the documentary on Vimeo here.


Martin Luther King Jr: The Man and the Dream

As a biography of MLK, this documentary explores his life and the events which led to the rise of his leadership. After civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to be a victim of segregation on a bus in December 1955, Black residents began a bus boycott, and MLK (not originally of his own pursuit — an interesting documentary tidbit) was chosen as president of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association. Thus his national influence began.

Watch this documentary on the Internet Archive or on Daily Motion to find out more.


The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Animated)

If you're looking for a more upbeat way to share the meaning of MLK Day with your children, 88 Brains created an animated ten-minute documentary that is a great way to introduce him to young ones.

You can check out their full documentary on YouTube here.


King in the Wilderness

This 2018 documentary follows MLK during the last few years of his life — from the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to his assassination in 1968. King In The Wilderness features interviews from people who were around MLK at the time, such as the late Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

You can stream King in the Wilderness on HBOMax or rent it on YouTube for $3.99.


I Am MLK Jr.

Using a contemporary perspective, I Am MLK Jr. tells the story of MLK’s journey as a civil rights leader and how his message is still relevant to this day. This film provides intimate insights on MLK, and explores the moments of challenge and victory in his life.

You can rent I Am MLK Jr. on Amazon Video, Vudu, or YouTube for $3.99 or purchase a high definition, digital copy of the documentary for $12.99.


King: Man of Peace in a Time of War

Using a rare TV interview with MLK himself, this hour long documentary provides some fresh insight into the life of the civil rights leader.

You can stream King: Man of Peace in a Time of War for free on Amazon Prime or on TubiTV.

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