Special on CNN tonight

Eyewitness to Murder - The King Assassination

“King has been shot at the Lorraine…” a police broadcast announced on April 4, 1968. Eyewitness to Murder – The King Assassination opens with the urgent call to search for “a young white male, possibly in a late-model white Mustang” fleeing the scene after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on the balcony in front of Room No. 306 of the Lorraine Motel. Reported by CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien, this two-hour documentary traces the evidence and investigates the lingering questions left after the murder of an American martyr.

O’Brien describes how escaped convict and armed robber James Earl Ray had already spent an uncommon year on the run that included plastic surgery the month before his path collided with that of the civil rights trailblazer, who had come to Memphis, Tenn. to help striking garbage workers. While local police provided a security escort for King on a previous visit, this time there was none because King’s local supporters turned it down because of a previous clash with police. The FBI was harassing King, having labeled him as "the most dangerous Negro" and sent him threatening letters. Military intelligence attempted to spy on King from a nearby rooftop.

Ray was captured two months later after a transatlantic getaway that ended in London on June 8, 1968, as he was attempting to escape to southern Africa. Ray pleaded guilty the following year to the assassination, although he retracted his confession two weeks later and would never again admit responsibility for the killing.

CNN has interviewed dozens of first-person witnesses to events surrounding the assassination. They include a minister who was the only person on the balcony with King and a fireman who may be the only living eyewitness who saw the civil rights leader at the moment he was shot. Among those also speaking to CNN are King’s closest aide, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young; James Earl Ray’s brother, Jerry; and James Earl Ray’s first and last defense attorneys. CNN explores alternative scenarios of what may have happened on that fateful day.

This first installment in CNN’s groundbreaking series, Black in America, is produced by a team of award-winning journalists including Mark Nelson, senior executive producer and vice president for CNN Productions, and Pulitzer Prize-winning senior producer James Polk, who has been covering aspects of the assassination for nearly 40 years, including the House Select Committee on Assassinations hearings. Black in America continues in July 2008 with a look at the issues, challenges and achievements of African Americans in The Black Man and The Black Woman & Family. The Black in America series is filmed in high definition.

The Black Man

Forty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, CNN's groundbreaking series Black in America continues in July with a pair of two-hour documentaries, The Black Man and The Black Woman & Family. For The Black Man, anchor and special correspondent Soledad O'Brien evaluates the state of black men in America. Have they realized the dreams of the Civil Rights era? Are things better for black men now than they were 40 years ago?

Half a century ago, Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., was a battleground in the struggle for civil rights. Through the life experiences of four 1968 graduates, their sons and grandsons, O'Brien explores such controversial topics as black men and fatherhood; disparities between African Americans and whites in educational, career and financial achievement; and factors leading to the devastating rates of black male homicides and incarceration. Since 1968, the number of black men graduating from high school has nearly tripled, and the percentage graduating from college has nearly quadrupled. Meanwhile, unemployment rates among black males are double that of white men, and one in three black men today will have a prison record before they reach age 30.

From the class of 1968, O'Brien meets a father and county school maintenance director. He describes his life and success as similar to television's "Huxtable" patriarch; another alum is an ex-convict, preacher and recovering crack addict who now counsels others in drug recovery. A third alum, a successful federal researcher and family man, feels he may have more in common with middle-class white men. The fourth has lived a life full of setbacks, and some of his grandsons have had similar challenges - a stint in rehab, periodic altercations with police - although one of his grandsons has done well in school and stayed out of trouble. O'Brien asks why some of these Little Rock Central High School grads were able to chase their dreams and others were not.

Contributing expert analysis to the issues behind the statistics: Harvard economist Dr. Roland Fryer, explains why some black students are accused by others of "acting white" when they exhibit academic excellence and other success-oriented behaviors; Princeton professor Dr. Devah Pager offers insights into black unemployment and wage gaps; journalist/social commentator Ellis Cose discusses the impact of crime in black communities; Dr. Michael Eric Dyson dissects some of the reasons behind high black male incarceration rates; and actor/activist Joseph Phillips describes why he feels black men have not accepted enough personal responsibility for falling behind in most objective indicators for success. Have black men realized the dreams of the Civil Rights era? The Black in America series is filmed in high definition.

The Black Woman and Family

Forty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, CNN’s groundbreaking series Black in America continues in July with a pair of two-hour documentaries,

The Black Man and The Black Woman & Family. For The Black Woman & Family, anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien explores the issues, achievements, challenges and experiences of black women and their families today through the stories of “ordinary” people.
O’Brien introduces viewers to the Houston-based Rand family. At their family reunion in Atlanta, more than 300 relatives gathered last summer – an extended family of educators, doctors, lawyers, ministers and executives. Some are the embodiment of King’s dream, others are living on the edge of survival. During CNN’s year-long examination, “lost” family members were connected – uniting black and white Rands for the very first time.

O’Brien explores the range of real-life experiences of African-American women and families, investigating the sensitive topics of the prevalence of poverty, HIV/AIDS, single motherhood and achievement gaps in education. Some statistics are alarming: Nearly three-quarters of African-American children are born to a single mother, black women make up two-thirds of new HIV/AIDS cases among women and 42 percent of black women have never been married. O’Brien explores the reasons why, and what experts say needs to happen now to address these issues. O’Brien also explores progress that is often under-recognized: that the number of black college students has increased by 40 percent over the last 20 years, and nearly 20 percent of board seats in corporate America are held by black women.

O’Brien interviews economist and Bennett College president Julianne Malveaux, Essence magazine editor Angela Burt-Murray, Dallas-based preacher and life coach Bishop T.D. Jakes, TV/radio personality and motivational speaker Michael Baisden, entertainer Vanessa Williams and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention researcher Dr. Camara Jones and Harvard University researcher Dr. Roland Fryer for their insights into the African-American experience and their perspectives on progress made towards King’s dream, 40 years after his death. The Black in America series is filmed in high definition.

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