A new documentary is exploring a period in Martin Luther King Jr.’s life that seldom gets attention: his final three years.
“King in the Wilderness,” directed by Peter Kunhardt, highlights the acute struggle and opposition the civil rights icon faced when the energy from his famed “I Have A Dream” speech settled and he began to expand his message of peace and nonviolence beyond the Southern states.
In an exclusive clip from the documentary, which premieres on HBO on April 2 at 8 p.m. EST, Andrew Young, former executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, talks about King facing the complex issues that plagued African-Americans in Western and Northern states, and how different they were than in the South.
“The issues in Watts [Los Angeles] and in the North were far more complex than black and white as they had been in the South,” Young says in the clip. “He was dealing with racism, but he was dealing with racism that was complicated by unemployment and unprepared migrants moving from the South to the North. And I realize we were in a different movement.”
Cleveland Sellars, former program director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, also notes in the clip that though poverty, lack of job opportunity and police brutality existed in these areas, folks “responded with whatever weapons they could find.”
On Monday, before the film’s premiere at Riverside Church in New York City ― where King gave his controversial yet powerful speech condemning the Vietnam War in April 1967 ― author Charles Blow told HuffPost that black people residing outside of the South felt “left behind.”
“The progress of the last 10 years had been the Civil Rights Bill and the Voting Rights Bill,” Blow said. “It had helped the people in the South, but it had done nothing for the people in the North and West.”
“Imagine yourself in Chicago, living in a slum, and you see all of this activity in the South and all of a sudden, they get progress. And they’re starting, probably, from a further place behind, but you see they’re moving forward... and you see your oppression is not changing,” he said. “So there was a real kinda ― I think the actual success in the South helped to stir up the riots in the North, because it said ‘Where is our progress?’”
Watch the clip from “King in the Wilderness” above.