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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.

by Tessa Shull and Casey Suglia
Originally Published: 

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 and 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 tragic 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 — not just in the American south but the entire country.

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.

Purchase The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306, not rated, on 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.

Purchase The March, not rated, on Amazon.


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.

Stream King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis, not rated, for free on Kanopy via your local library or rent it on YouTube or Amazon Prime for $3.99.


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.

Stream The Movement Begins: One Dream Documentary, not rated, on YouTube in parts one, two, three, four, and five.


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.

Watch The Bus, not rated on Vimeo for $3.


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.

Stream Martin Luther King Jr.: The Man and the Dream, not rated, on Daily Motion.


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.

Stream The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., not rated, on YouTube.


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.

Stream King in the Wilderness, not rated but recommended for children 13 and older by Common Sense Media, on HBOMax.


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.

Rent I am MLK Jr., not rated, on Amazon Video for $2.99.


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.

Stream King: Man of Peace in a Time of War, not rated, on Tubi.

Learning about the great man more deeply is a meaningful way to honor his life, and his mission, on your Monday off.

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