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7 Must-Watch Documentaries About Martin Luther King, Jr. That Are Moving & Informative


With Martin Luther King, Jr (MLK) 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 who is a crucial figure in the story of American history. While we should be doing it everyday, MLK's birthday is a day to promote and remember equal rights for all Americans. If you're looking to reflect on the holiday by educating yourself even further on the man and the causes that he represents, 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.

1. 'The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306'

West Middle School on YouTube

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 it on iTunes here or head over to YouTube to watch it here.

2. '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 here.

3. 'King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis'

The New York Times

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 view the two full parts on Sundance Now here for $5. Or, you can view the "Montgomery to Memphis" portion on The New York Times video site for free here.

4. The Movement Begins: One Dream Documentary

TIME on YouTube

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.

5. '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 watch TIME's exclusive short edit of the film here (click tab "02. Stakes" at the top) or you can pay $3 for the documentary on Vimeo here.

6. '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 to find out more.

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

88 Brains on YouTube

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.

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