Created for radio in 1945 by Martha Rountree and Lawrence Spivak, Meet the Press first aired on television in November 1947. Martin Luther King appeared on Meet the Press five times. Though the tone of the program was often antagonistic, King appreciated the chance to reach a national audience and had a cordial relationship with Spivak, who was the show’s producer and a permanent panelist until his retirement in 1975.
Spivak first approached King about appearing on the show in March 1957. Although King agreed at the time, telling Spivak he was “more than happy to accept the invitation for such a significant interview,” scheduling conflicts delayed his appearance (King, 29 March 1957). King first addressed the Sunday program on 17 April 1960, during the height of the sit-in movement. King discussed the sit-ins and nonviolence, criticized the federal government’s lack of moral leadership, and defended himself against accusations of being sympathetic to communism. After the program, he received numerous telegrams congratulating him on his performance.
King was next scheduled to appear on the program 29 July 1962, but he was arrested in Albany, Georgia, on 27 July. Spivak telephoned King in jail and, according to King’s jail diary, begged him to post bail so he could appear on the program. King refused, suggesting Spivak instead interview his colleague, William G. Anderson, a founder and the president of the Albany Movement. The following summer, in the days leading up to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, King appeared on the program again, this time with Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The pair explained the purpose of the march and countered fears that large-scale violence would break out.
King next appeared on Meet the Press on 28 March 1965. Special arrangements were made so that King could record the program from San Francisco, while the panel of interviewers remained in Washington, D.C. In a heated interview, King defended the Selma to Montgomery March from the allegation that it was “silly,” arguing that the demonstration had not only been about voting rights, but was also meant to draw attention to the problems of police brutality and impunity for crimes perpetrated against civil rights activists.
In 1966, soon after the term “Black Power” began to be used among some civil rights activists, Meet the Press broadcasted a special 90-minute show with a panel of civil rights leaders including King; Wilkins; Whitney Young, director of the National Urban League; Floyd McKissick, director of the Congress of Racial Equality; Stokely Carmichael, chairman of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; and James Meredith, who had recently been shot while marching to promote voter registration. The discussion addressed perceived tensions within the civil rights movement and was later entered in full into the Congressional Record.
King’s final appearance on Meet the Press occurred 13 August 1967, the day before the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and shortly after the publication of King’s book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Although the discussion focused largely on King’s anti-Vietnam War views, King also answered questions about recent riots and the 1968 presidential elections.