A new primetime special on PBS will examine the forgotten agenda of Martin Luther King Jr., whose famed “Beyond Vietnam” speech, given at Riverside Church in 1967, led to an abrupt loss of his popularity in the last year of his life. In exclusive interviews on the second installment of TAVIS SMILEY REPORTS, King’s closest advisors discuss the divisions within the civil rights movement over King’s opposition to the war in Vietnam ““ and the political and public fallout from his criticism of American foreign policy. The program explores the relevance of King’s anti-war position to the current U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the significance of the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor bestowed upon both King and President Barack Obama.
The episode, titled “MLK: A Call to Conscience,” premieres on PBS, March 31 at 8pm/7pm Central.
In the interviews, Dr. Vincent Harding, who is co-credited with writing the “Beyond Vietnam” speech, tells Tavis Smiley that King’s inner circle worried about the ramifications of the speech, both before and after he gave it.
“We were concerned, he was concerned, but he had really come to the point, as the speech is trying to say, where if he was to be a man of conscience, a man of compassion, he had to speak,” said Dr. Harding.He added, “But it was precisely one year to the day after this speech that that bullet which had been chasing him for a long time finally caught up with him. And I am convinced that that bullet had something to do with that speech. And over the years, that’s been quite a struggle for me.”
TAVIS SMILEY REPORTS “MLK: A Call to Conscience” is based on dozens of hours of interviews with King’s friends and with scholars who study his legacy, including:
* Dr. Vincent Harding, drafter of the “Beyond Vietnam” speech,
* Clarence Jones, King’s legal advisor,
* Dr. Cornel West, a leading expert on race in America,
* Dr. Susannah Heschel, daughter of activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel,
* Dr. Clayborne Carson, director of the King Institute at Stanford University ,
* Marian Wright Edelman, Organizer for the Poor People’s Campaign with King,
* Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize-winning King historian.
Regarding contemporary comparisons between Nobel Peace Prize recipients Martin Luther King Jr. and President Obama, Tavis Smiley says, “During these interviews, I heard over and over again that the similarities between Martin Luther King Jr. and President Obama are limited. They are both strong Black leaders, and Obama’s success is in part due to King’s achievements. But one was a Christian preacher who advocated non-violence and the other is a wartime president. The comparisons can only go so far.”
TAVIS SMILEY REPORTS, a series of four primetime specials airing on PBS throughout 2010, debuted in January with “One on One with Hilary Clinton.” Following “MLK: A Call to Conscience” on March 31, the series continues this summer when Smiley teams with Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme to revisit New Orleans on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Visit pbs.org/tavis/reports for more information, Web-exclusive content or to view past episodes.
TAVIS SMILEY REPORTS is produced for PBS by The Smiley Group, Inc. /TS Media, Inc. and KCET Los Angeles. Executive producer is Jacoba Atlas. Funding provided by Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS and Public Television Viewers.