Documentary Maker to Deliver First OLLI at Duke Martin Luther King Jr. Day Lecture

Christopher Martens to explore civic life of Jackie Robinson.

OLLI at Duke's first annual Martin Luther King Day lecture will be given on Jan. 21 by Christopher Martens, a multiple-Emmy-award-winning producer and documentarian. His address, "The Civil Rights Movement Through the Eyes of Jackie Robinson" will explore the life of the noted athlete and activist.Martens, with 23 years of experience at ESPN, says no athlete in the 20th century devoted more of his life to the cause of civil rights than Jackie Robinson. "I'd like to see athletes have a larger appreciation for Robinson's role in political life," Martens says. "Star athletes have the platform and a huge following and can influence the masses in a positive way."There is no charge, but if you plan to attend the 10 a.m. lecture at the Judea Reform Education Building in Durham, you must RSVP to Mary Georger (919-681-3476; by Jan. 7.Martens believes we can all find inspiration in Robinson's dogged pursuit of civil rights. "As far as civic engagement, you don't have to be a star athlete to take up a cause," Martens says.Martens' projects include SportsCentury, which presented biographies of the greatest athletes of the century, and specials on Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali."It can be argued," Martens says, "that the modern day civil rights movement began with Robinson breaking baseball's color line in 1947, which helped pave the way for the integration of the armed forces by Harry Truman one year later. Jackie was very often ahead of his time in both action and thought."In 1942, as a corporal in the army, Robinson refused to move to the back of a segregated bus and was court martialed -- 13 years before Rosa Parks would be arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, an event that would change the course of history. Robinson went on to become a major player in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He was good friends with Martin Luther King and an adversary of Malcom X. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that Robinson was "a legend and a symbol in his own time," and that he "challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration."Martens will also talk about Robinson the prolific letter writer, who penned letters to every major politician, including presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. "His letters were hard-hitting and critical and demanded a call to action," Martens says. "'There's not an American in this country free until every one of us is free' was Robinson's favorite rallying cry."Robinson's death at 53 from a heart attack and complications from diabetes shocked the nation, a death Martens attributes to a highly stressful life dedicated to others. "Jackie died before his time, Martens says, "but the inscription on his tombstone will live forever: 'A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.'"Martens says he is eagerly anticipating the Jackie Robinson biopic "42," which opens April 12 with Chadwick Boseman playing the famed Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman. Harrison Ford plays team general manager Branch Rickey in the film written and directed by Brian Helgeland.