Documentary focuses on life - and death - of MLK’s brother, A.D. King

He was arrested during a  1960 lunch counter sit-in in Atlanta.

His family barely escaped a bombing at their home in Birmingham. He helped lead the open housing movement in Louisville, Ky.

He was in a room below when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down as he stood on a second-floor balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

Yet, today,  many people don’t know much about the life of Alfred Daniel “A.D.” King, the younger brother of Martin Luther King Jr.

A.D. King’s life, contributions to the civil rights movement and his death 15 months after his brother’s assassination are the focus of a recently released documentary, “Unsolved History: Life of a King.”

“I consider myself well-versed in civil rights, but I didn’t know a lot about him,” said Ri-Karlo Handy, president and CEO of Sunwise Media, which co-produced the King documentary with Positive Promotions . “There are lots of folks who made big contributions to the movement. I felt like we needed comprehensive education. This was not just Martin Luther King Jr. and ‘I Have a Dream’. There were many different pieces and components.”

The  documentary, which is narrated by veteran journalist Ed Gordon, will air in Atlanta at 11 p.m. April 5 on   WATL-TV (Channel 36) and  at 5 p.m. on  April 7.

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The documentary opens with the January funeral of Isaac Newton Farris Sr., who was married to Christine King Farris.

Family matriarch Alberta Williams King is flanked by her sons, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on her right and A.D. King on her left. Isaac Newton Farris, the husband of her daughter, Christine, stands behind them. (AJC file photo)

Credit: contributed

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Credit: contributed

Isaac Farris Jr. is speaking about his uncles.

A.D. King, he said, “was taken from us. We don’t talk about it much, but he was taken from us.”

That sets the stage for a look int the civil rights work of A.D King and his efforts to determine who was behind his brother’s killing.

The idea grew out of a conversation between King’s oldest child, Alveda King, and Josetta Shropshire,  president and CEO of Conyers-based Positive Promotions, about 11 years ago.

Shropshine, an avid reader,  remembered seeing photos of A.D. King when she was a child.

She recognized there was another story to tell about the King family legacy, that of the younger brother.

“His life had meaning and it had purpose,” she said. “People need to understand the sacrifice he made for civil rights and liberties that we now enjoy. I think that we, as African Americans, have archive our own history and his (story) has largely not been told.”

Alveda King served as a consultant on the project.

The documentary explores several threads - including his early life and studies at Morehouse College to his pastoring of churches near Birmingham and in Louisville, Ky.

Coretta Scott King, center, widow of slain civil right Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. walk in the funeral procession with their children and family in Atlanta, Ga., April 9, 1968. From left are, daughter Yolanda, 12; King's brother A.D. King; daughter Bernice, 5; widow King; Rev. Ralph Abernathy; sons Dexter, 7, and Martin Luther King III, 10.

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During his time in the pulpit, A.D. King was very active in the movement fighting for voting and equal rights in cities such as Atlanta, Birmingham, Louisville and Memphis.

Other civil rights figures describe A.D. King as an important member of the movement - “master strategist. “

After his brother’s death, it was assumed by some he would take the mantle of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, but that went to King ally and veteran the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy.

It also raises questions about his death.

Did he accidentally drown in his backyard swimming pool or was he killed. A son is interviewed who said he noticed bruising on his father’s abdomen when police pulled him out of the pool in the fetal position.

The night before his death, Alveda King said she overheard her dad on the phone telling someone he knew that he killed his brother.

It is the first in a series of documentaries by Sunwise Media about African-American figures and culture.

The March 21 documentary 'The Last Days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.' on Channel 2 kicked off a countdown of remembrance across the combined platforms of Channel 2 and its partners, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB Radio

The three Atlanta news sources will release comprehensive multi-platform content until April 9, the anniversary of King’s funeral. 

On April 4, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, the three properties will devote extensive live coverage to the memorials in Atlanta, Memphis and around the country. 

The project will present a living timeline in real time as it occurred on that day in 1968, right down to the time the fatal shot was fired that ended his life an hour later. 

The project will culminate on April 9 with coverage of the special processional in Atlanta marking the path of Dr. King’s funeral, which was watched by the world.