The annual glut of Black History Month-themed TV programming can risk trivializing the remembrances and the message, blurring this aspect of the nation’s past with the kind of commercial values applied to very-special Valentine’s Day episodes.
That said, a few productions stand out, and one would be Investigation Discovery’s “March to Justice,” a crisp one-hour documentary that recaps the civil-rights movement through the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, bringing participants in those events together with members of then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s family, including his widow Ethel. (Incidentally, a recent HBO documentary devoted to her, “Ethel,” is also recommended viewing.)
Rep. John Lewis — a 21-year-old student when he spoke at the March on Washington, before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech — guides three generations of Kennedys on a bus ride tracing the path and circumstances surrounding that historic event. Others interviewed include former RFK assistant John Seigenthaler; and Ruby Bridges, whose role as a 6-year-old girl in the school-integration struggle inspired a famous Norman Rockwell painting, which has hung outside President Obama’s office.
Produced by NBC News’ Peacock Prods., it’s the kind of classy project that certainly deserves a wider spotlight, but which seldom finds space on the major networks. (It’s also a thematic detour for ID, which most of the time revels in serial killers and cheating and/or murderous spouses with unabashed glee.)
Perhaps foremost, these grainy images of police turning fire hoses and dogs on peaceful demonstrators should never lose their power to dismay us, or allow us to forget how far segregation lingered into the 20th century. Lewis speaks of the courage to challenge the established order at the time as “necessary trouble.” That it was, every bit as much as “March to Justice” is necessary history.