Wynton Marsalis: My relationship to MLK

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is seen Monday, Aug. 22, 2011, in Washington, ahead of its dedication next weekend.
CBS/Erick Washington

NEW YORK - As America celebrates the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. today, Wynton Marsalis makes his debut as CBS News cultural correspondent. Using his words and music, the jazz great has created a stirring personal essay reflecting on King's long-lasting impact.

Watch Marsalis' report in the video above. Viewers are cautioned that some of his words are not appropriate for everyone.

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Growing up as a young man in Louisiana in the 1960s, Marsalis describes segregated Southern towns and integration. "It was tough, but it opened our eyes to a more humane world hidden by segregation. We had more in common with white kids than we thought," Marsalis says.

"By the time I became a teenager, the street-level perception was: King had seemed too willing to make nice for white folks," Marsalis says. "For us, the dashiki clad, big-afro revolutionary was it. This was 350 years of oppression come crashing down on you, and here King is asking you to whisper instead of holler. Man, you must be crazy."

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After having an argument about race with a young white college student, Marsalis began to read King's writings, as well as books written about the civil rights leader.

"The legacy of Dr. King is all around us." Marsalis says. "It's all up in us. Even back then, he preached timeless human fundamentals that we all share. He once said, 'Everybody has the blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved.' But let's not forget. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paid the ultimate price to bring our nation together in the fight for freedom. The power in national unity, is something that we've forgotten. It's up to us to revive and sustain it, today and always."