National Geographic and The Undefeated warn you at the beginning and after every commercial break that The March on Washington: Keepers of the Dream contains graphic content that may not be suitable for all viewers. “Viewer discretion advised,” but if you’ve been paying attention to the civil rights issues in America over the past seven decades, none of it should come as a shock. In this hour-long documentary, premiering February 18th at 10/9c, viewers will see parallels between two marches on Washington from 1963 and 2020, tracking the events between each that made both marches historic.

(National Geographic Image Collection/James P. Blair)

(National Geographic Image Collection/James P. Blair)

Commentators include Wes Moore, Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Dr. Vernon Allwood, Billy Murphy Jr., Jemele Hill, LZ Granderson, Dr. Todd Boyd, Chris Connely and Clarissa Brooks who discuss major milestones in Black American history, paired with archival footage. In many ways, The March on Washington: Keepers of the Dream underscores the important role the media has played, but doesn’t dive into the double-edged sword that it has also been to the Black community. All the same, it makes it clear that without video footage broadcast across America of the Birmingham Campaign in 1963, the March on Washington would likely not have happened, or at least not in the numbers it attracted. Without that, we might never have received the gift of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, his vision originally focused on smaller protests in cities across the country.

In many ways, this documentary is required viewing for anyone trying to understand the Black Lives Matter movement. It traces the rise of the individual vigilantes and hate groups that arose in the wake of the post emancipation period and highlights some of the major atrocities along the way, starting with Emmit Till and continuing through a long list of unjustified murders leading to George Floyd.

National Geographic produced a documentary called LA 92 in 2017, a great follow-up selection for viewers who want to take a deeper dive into the LA Riots, which are touched upon here. After seeing disturbing footage for the deaths of Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, another commentator is George Holliday, a resident of LA who witnessed police brutality and picked up his video camera, capturing the beating of Rodney King on tape, the footage that sparked outrage in LA and led to the riots when the officers responsible were acquitted.

Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” is the start of a modern conversation about institutionalized racism, viewed as a euphemism for locking up Black people. The law quadrupled the presence of police in Black communities, with Ronal Reagan’s administration further quadrupling the number of Black people in prison. It talks about the hope and disappointment of Bill Clinton for the Black community, playing his saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show but implementing the 1994 Crime Bill with its three strike system.

The March on Washington: Keepers of the Dream sets the scene for why, during a pandemic that was killing Black Americans at a disproportionately higher rate, it became critical to hold protests across the country, leading to a new march on Washington last August. One of the quotes from the event essentially said we can either die quietly at home from the virus or loudly in the streets, choosing to make their voices heard instead. It draws a new parallel for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of smaller protests throughout the country coming to fruition in the wake of a long chain of unjustified deaths at the hands of police with a new call for action and change at a time when the whole world was watching.

Don’t miss The March on Washington: Keepers of the Dream premiering on National Geographic on Thursday, February 18th, at 10/9c.