Former Cinematographer Screens Rarely Seen Interview with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 20, 2015

Poised. Calm. Peaceful.

These are all words that George Silano used to describe Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was interviewed in his Atlanta home almost a half-century ago, at the height of the civil rights struggle in the United States.

Silano, 85, who spoke to the Saint Leo community as part of the university’s recent Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration, was hired to be the cinematographer on a four-man crew. They spent 3½ days recording a far-reaching interview in the late civil rights leader’s private residence in December 1965. “It was a unique situation,” said Silano. “He was the ‘real deal’ and very easy to work with. I felt very lucky to be a part of it–to breathe the same air. As the years go by, it seems more powerful.” Silano is the last living member of that independent production crew.

This was the first and only time Dr. King opened his home to a television news or documentary crew to film him and his family in a uniquely intimate setting, revealing his most private thoughts.

The 54-minute documentary, produced by noted TV producer and host Arnold Michaelis, had been hidden in the archives at the University of Georgia when Silano rediscovered it about two years ago. Since then, only about 2,000 people have viewed the black-and-white film, mostly at college and university campuses. The 100 attendees at Saint Leo Monday watched intently as Dr. King and his wife, Coretta, spoke clearly and calmly about important issues, including Vietnam, the March to Selma, the March on Washington, President Lyndon Johnson, and even the possibility of Dr. King’s assassination. “I would willingly sacrifice my life for that which is right and just. If I should die at the hand of an assassin, and my death was redemptive, then I would surely do it,” Dr. King hauntingly remarked. He also addressed his recent Nobel Peace Prize and described its meaning and importance.

“There are no adjectives to adequately describe Martin Luther King, Jr. as he was just that special. There was no one like him except for maybe Nelson Mandela,” said Silano. “There’s a reason why he was named the ‘most popular public speaker of the 20th century.’ He had a poise and a presence about him that I never saw in any other human being. I am thankful to have played a small role in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I will treasure that special time always.”

To receive a one-page “Did You Know” document concerning Dr. King’s global legacy, email Dr. Heather Parker, chair of the Department of Social Sciences, at heather.parker02@saintleo.edu, with the words “Requesting MLK Global Legacy information.”