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Tom Brokaw hopes documentary shows Martin Luther King's dream is alive

These days, frustration about race issues seems easily earned.

Whether it's disappointment about a growing minority underclass or fear that race may hamper the candidacy of the first non-white man with a serious shot at the presidency, evidence abounds for those who contend America has made little progress in eradicating race-based inequality.

But Tom Brokaw isn't buying it.

"Look what I've been witness to in my own lifetime," said NBC News' onetime lead anchor, 68, who appears on the History channel Sunday with an expansive documentary on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. "The fact that Barack Obama is a serious candidate for president is a very, very profound statement about where we are."

That's why Brokaw helped assemble King, a look at the civil rights leader's rise to prominence and death in the 1960s. Packed with notable interviews and compelling footage, the film connects voices diverse as Harry Belafonte, former King aide Andrew Young, rapper Chuck D., former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice into a potent narrative.

Brokaw, who graduated from college in '62 and anchored the late news in Atlanta in '65, recalled two things about that time: the effectiveness of King's nonviolent approach and his strategic thinking. King carefully calibrated protests so network newscasts would carry the brutality of the Jim Crow South to America, because newspapers often downplayed the violence.

"Harry Belafonte was telling me he didn't think nonviolence would work, but then he saw it work," said Brokaw, who shows how Belafonte rallied stars such as Leonard Bernstein and Sammy Davis Jr. into a "New York Delegation" that helped raise money for King's initiatives.

"Colin Powell said to me a very apt phrase: 'Dr. King not only liberated black people, he liberated white people from racism.' "

The film caps several days of media remembrances focused on Friday's 40th anniversary of King's assassination in Memphis. Yet, the media still struggle to present consistent substantive discussion on race issues.

Brokaw places a lot of faith in young leaders of color he calls "Martin Luther King's grandchildren," folks such as Obama, former Tennessee Sen. Harold Ford and King's son, Martin Luther King III.

"(King's) son talks more about the issues than he talks about race," Brokaw said. "He talks more about economic justice, housing and job opportunities. There's a consciousness that there are a lot of poor white people in America as well . . . and he's talking about that."

Brokaw said the country's biggest race-related achievement may be our current presidential campaign, where race and gender are just two of many factors affecting Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton's chances. His film traces the seeds of that achievement, rooted in the heroic struggle of a fallen civil rights giant.

"I hope people look at the documentary and see . . . you don't get things done by constantly playing the victim card or ranting on talk radio," he said. "You identify problems, attack them in a consistent way and do it with great courage and moral conviction."

Eric Deggans can be reached at or (727) 893-8521. See his blog at



The documentary airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on the History channel.

Grade: A

Tom Brokaw hopes documentary shows Martin Luther King's dream is alive 04/04/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 12:11pm]
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