PBS honors Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with special programs

James Baldwin

PBS will honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and recognize the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination with a slate of programs including two very special films that celebrate his legacy, including the Academy Award-nominated film “I Am Not Your Negro” and a new documentary, “Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart.”

INDEPENDENT LENS kicks off the New Year with “I Am Not Your Negro” on Monday, January 15, 8 – 9:30 pm CT. The film envisions a book James Baldwin never finished, a revolutionary and personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. INDEPENDENT LENS, which airs Mondays on PBS is a continuing series that features documentaries united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of independent filmmakers.

AMERICAN MASTERS, which airs Fridays on PBS, is a continuing series that explores the lives and creative journeys of America’s most enduring artistic and cultural giants. “Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart” premieres on Friday, January 19, from 8 – 10 pm CT. It explores the life and work of the A Raisin in the Sun playwright and activist who played a significant role in the civil rights movement.

In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, “Remember This House.” The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and assassinations of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only 30 completed pages of this manuscript.

Filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished in I Am Not Your Negro, a radical narration about race in America, using the writer’s original words, as read by actor Samuel L. Jackson. Alongside a flood of rich archival material, the film draws upon Baldwin’s notes on the lives and assassinations of Evers, Malcolm, and King to explore and bring a fresh and radical perspective to the current racial narrative in America.

The documentary is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter. It is a film that questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond. And, ultimately, by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassination of these three leaders, Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges the very definition of what America stands for.

Lorraine Hansberry

Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” (1959) changed the face of American theater by depicting the limitations of the American dream through the lives of a black family on Chicago’s South Side. The play’s richly drawn characters and unprecedented subject matter attracted record crowds and earned it the coveted top prize from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle.

In “Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart,” the first full-length in-depth film about the playwright, award-winning filmmaker Tracy Heather Strain examines Hansberry’s life and work using a remarkable collection of archival footage, home movies, rare photos and unpublished documents. The new film features interviews with Hollywood legends such as Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, and Louis Gossett Jr., with narration by award-winning actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson, and the voice of Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose as Hansberry. The result is a timely and revealing portrait of an activist and artist whose popular recognition has, until now, remained long overdue.

Hansberry inspired Nina Simone’s song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” and became the godmother to Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa—now Simone.

Hansberry, a heavy smoker her whole life, died of pancreatic cancer on January 12, 1965, aged 34. James Baldwin believed “it is not at all farfetched to suspect that what she saw contributed to the strain which killed her, for the effort to which Lorraine was dedicated is more than enough to kill a man.”

Paul Robeson and SNCC organizer James Forman gave eulogies at Hansberry’s funeral in Harlem on January 15, 1965. Messages from Baldwin and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. read: “Her creative ability and her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today will remain an inspiration to generations yet unborn.” The 15th was also Dr. King’s birthday.