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EXCLUSIVE: Rarely Seen Film “King: A Filmed Record” Traces MLK’s Struggle from Montgomery to Memphis

StoryFebruary 25, 2013
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In a Black History Month special, we air excerpts of a rarely seen Oscar-nominated documentary about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the rise of the civil rights movement. Produced by Ely Landau, “King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis” is made from original newsreel footage and other original video footage shot of marches, rallies and church services. “King” was originally screened for one night only in 1970 in more than 600 theaters across the United States, but has rarely been seen since. We air extensive footage of the film, featuring a historic look at the eight-year period that led up to the 1963 March on Washington, D.C. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This week marks the final week of Black History Month, and this year, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of a pivotal year in America’s civil rights movement. On August 28th, 1963, an estimated quarter of a million people joined the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Well, today we spend the hour featuring an historic look at the movement that led up to that March on Washington. We air major excerpts of the rarely seen 1970 documentary King: A Filmed Record…From Montgomery to Memphis. The film was directed by Sidney Lumet and produced by Ely Landau, largely made from original newsreel footage. The film was played at a one-time-only event March 24th, 1970, in theaters across the country. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and is listed in the National Film Registry. But ever since 1970, the documentary has been rarely seen—until now, as the distributors of the film have given us permission to share it with you. The film has just been released as a two-DVD set by Kino Lorber.

It begins December 1955 with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressing a full church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was just days after Rosa Parks was arrested. The African community—the African-American community in Montgomery had gathered to decide whether to begin what became the famous Montgomery bus boycott.

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: It has been moved and seconded that the resolution as read will be received and adopted. Are you ready for the question? All in favor, let it be known by standing on your feet.

That was the day that we started a bus protest which literally electrified the nation, and that was the day when we decided that we were not going to take segregated buses any longer. And, you know, when we planned the bus boycott, we said if we could just get about 50 or 60 percent of the Negroes of Montgomery not to ride buses, this would be an effective boycott. I think that whole day we found eight Negroes on the buses. And from that day on, that boycott was more than 99.9 percent effective.

I remember that Monday morning when I was subpoenaed to be in court, the chief defender. Many things ran through my mind. And I started thinking about the people, all day long trying to think of something to say to the people. Finally, I arrived to the pulpit. My words were fumbling a bit.

Let us fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace. Let’s be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. Let us never fight with falsehood and violence and hate and malice, but always fight with love, so that when the day comes that the walls of segregation have completely crumbled in Montgomery, that we will be able to live with people as their brothers and sisters.

And I say to you, my friends, rise up and know that as you struggle for justice, you do not struggle alone, but God struggles with you. Freedom is never given to anybody, for the oppressor has you in domination because he plans to keep you there, and he never voluntarily gives it up. And that is where the strong resistance comes. We’ve got to keep on keeping on, in order to gain freedom. It is not done voluntarily, but it is done through the pressure that comes about from people who are oppressed. Privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance.

KLAN SPEAKER: They want to throw white children and colored children into the melting pot of integration, through out of which will come a conglomerated mulatto mongrel class of people.

AMY GOODMAN: A member of the Ku Klux Klan.

KLAN SPEAKER: Both races will be destroyed in such a movement. I, for one, under God, will die before I’ll yield one inch for that kind of a movement.

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: I want young men and young women who are not alive today but who will come into this world with new privileges and new opportunity, I want them to know and see that these new privileges and opportunity did not come without somebody suffering and sacrificing for them.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. King’s church and his house was bombed in Montgomery, Alabama.

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: The executive board of the Montgomery Improvement Association recommends that the 11-month-old protest against the city buses will be called off and that the Negro citizens of Montgomery, Alabama, will return to the buses on a non-segregated basis. It is further recommended that this return to the buses will not take place until the mandate from the United States Supreme Court is turned over to the federal district court.

AMY GOODMAN: That was November of 1955.

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: We have the assurance from authentic sources that this mandate will come to Montgomery in a matter of just a few days. For those three or four days, we will continue to walk and share rides.

C.C. OWENS: I hereby defy ruling handed down by the United States Supreme Court ordering desegregation of public carriers. Alabama state law requiring segregation of races on buses still stands. As long as I am president of the Alabama Public Service Commission, I am going to see that our segregation laws are upheld.

POLICE COMMISSIONER CLYDE SELLERS: I have this day issued orders to the chief of police and the police department to continue to make arrests in all violations with reference to the segregation laws. And as long as I am police commissioner of the city of Montgomery, I intend to follow this course.

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: This morning, the long-awaited mandate from the United States Supreme Court concerning bus segregation came to Montgomery.


REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: This mandate expresses, in terms that are crystal clear, that segregation in public transportation is both legally and sociologically invalid. In the light of this mandate and the unanimous vote rendered by the Montgomery Improvement Association about a month ago, the year-old protest against city buses is officially called off, and the Negro citizens of Montgomery are urged to return to the buses tomorrow morning on a non-segregated basis.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking December 20th, 1956, announcing the end of the Montgomery bus boycott after more than 380 days. In a moment, we’ll play more from the documentary King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis. The film has just been released on DVD by Kino Lorber. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: “Freedom,” song heard in the film King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis. Today, we’re bringing you major portions of this historic documentary as part of the last week of Black History Month. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to the film, when the actor James Earl Jones reads the Langston Hughes poem “Who But the Lord?” After that, we hear from Dr. King as he announces the beginning of the Birmingham campaign, a boycott of businesses that discriminate against African-American customers and refuse to employ them. The boycott led to hundreds of arrests, including several arrests of Dr. King himself, who was moved to write his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In this next segment, you’ll also hear Dr. King read his letter in the context of the movement then underway. It was a response to a statement by eight white Alabama clergy titled “A Call for Unity,” in which they called for the battle against racial segregation to be fought solely in the courts, not in the streets. We start with James Earl Jones.

JAMES EARL JONES: [reading Langston Hughes]
I looked and I saw
That man they call the law.
He was coming
Down the street at me!
I had visions in my head
Of being laid out cold and dead,
Or else murdered
By the third degree.

I said, O, Lord, if you can,
Save me from that man!
Don’t let him make a pulp out of me!
But the Lord he was not quick.
The law raised up his stick
And beat the living hell
Out of me!

Now, I do not understand
Why God don’t protect a man
From police brutality.

Being poor and black,
I’ve no weapon to strike back
So who but the Lord
Can protect me?

We’ll see.

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: You know when I say, “Don’t be afraid,” you know what I really mean: Don’t even be afraid to die. And I submit to you tonight that no man is free if he fears death. But the minute you conquer the fear of death, at that moment, you are free. You must say, somehow, “I don’t have much money. I don’t have much education. I may not be able to read and write. But I have the capacity to die.”

It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly to get rid of the disease of racism. If I would seek to give you a blueprint for our freedom in Birmingham tonight, I would say first that at this moment we must decide that we will no longer spend our money in businesses that discriminate against Negroes.

I will not rest until we are able to make this kind of witness in this city so that the power structure downtown will have to say, “We can’t stop this movement, and the only way to deal with it is to give these people what we owe them and what their God-given rights and their constitutional rights demand.”

[reading “Letter from Birmingham Jail”] “MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN: While confined here in the Birmingham City Jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities 'unwise and untimely.' … Since I feel that you are men of genuine goodwill and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms. …

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. …

“Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. … There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. …

“You may well ask: 'Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?’ … Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. …

“You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. … Was not Jesus an extremist for love: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.' … Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? …

“When you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park … and see her … developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: 'Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?'; … when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading 'white' and 'colored'; when your first name becomes 'nigger,' your middle name becomes 'boy' (however old you are) and your last name becomes 'John,' and your wife and mother are never given the respected title 'Mrs.'; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; … when you [are] forever fighting a [degrading and] degenerating sense of ’nobodiness’—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. …

“You assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. … Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? …

“I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. … We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of [the almighty] God are embodied in our echoing demands.”

We have asked for four things, and we are still holding out for all four: the desegregation of all facilities in the stores, this includes restroom facilities, lunch counters and fitting rooms; number two, upgrading in employment in the stores, so that you have Negro clerks and Negro salesmen and women; number three, the dropping of all of the charges against the persons who have been unjustly arrested for engaging in these peaceful, nonviolent demonstrations on the basis of the First and 14th Amendments of the Constitution; number five—


REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: I mean, number four, the appointment of a biracial committee to deal with the other problems of segregation that still exist and the setting of a timetable to solve the problems such as school desegregation, the reopening of the parks on an integrated basis in compliance with the federal court order, and a fair hiring policy in municipal agencies. And this would also include Negro policemen.

EUGENEBULLCONNOR: You can never whip these birds if you don’t keep you and them separate. You’ve got to keep the white and the black separate. Let the law enforcement agencies—that’s what you’ve got them hired for—and the governor of the state of Alabama handle this thing. Now, George asked me to ask you to do that, do him one favor.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Bull Connor.

EUGENEBULLCONNOR: Tell your friends, when you leave here between now and Tuesday, don’t go up there. Leave it alone. They’re going to handle this situation. Just leave it alone. You know, those Kennedys up there in Washington, that little old Bobby socks and his brother, the president, they’d give anything in the world if we had some trouble here. If we don’t have any trouble, we can beat them at their own game.

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: The activities which have taken place in Birmingham over the last few days, to my mind, mark the nonviolent movement coming of age. This is the first time in the history of our struggle that we have been able, literally, to fill the jails. And in a real sense, this is the fulfillment of a dream, for I’ve always felt that if we could fill the jails in our witness for freedom, it would be a magnificent expression of the determination of the Negro and a marvelous way to lay the whole issue before the conscience of the local and national community. And I think, in a real sense, this Birmingham movement is one of the most inspiring developments in the whole nonviolent struggle.

We must say to our white brothers all over the South who will try to keep us down, “We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you, and yet we cannot in our good conscience obey your evil laws. Do to us what you will, threaten our children, and we will still love you. Come into our homes at the midnight hours of life and take us out on some desolate highway and beat us and leave us there, and we will still love you. Run all around the continent, send your literature and say that we aren’t worthy of integration, that we are too immoral, that we are too low, that we are too degraded, and yet we will still love you. Bomb our homes and go by our churches early in the morning and bomb them, if you please, and we will still love you. But we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. In winning the victory, we will not only win our freedom, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process.”

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King announcing the end of the Birmingham campaign, a boycott of businesses that discriminate against African-American customers, refusing to employ them, also challenging segregation. We’ll return to the rarely seen 1970 documentary, King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis, in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Mahalia Jackson singing “How I Got Over” at the 1963 March on Washington, a clip from the rarely seen 1970 documentary, King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis. We return to the film now with actress Ruby Dee, wife of actor Ossie Davis, reading the poem “Frederick Douglass” by Robert Hayden. After Ruby Dee, we arrive at the March on Washington August 28th, 1963, and hear first from the activist Bayard Rustin, then A. Philip Randolph, organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and one of the organizers of the march. He introduces Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but first, actress Ruby Dee.

RUBY DEE: [reading “Frederick Douglass”]
When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as the earth; when it belongs at last to our children,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Negro
visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic,
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, lives
fleshing the dream of this needful, beautiful thing.

BAYARD RUSTIN: We demand that segregation be ended in every school district in the year 1963! We demand that we have effective civil rights legislation, no compromise, no filibuster, and that it include public accommodations, decent housing, integrated education, FEPC and the right to vote. What do you say? We demand the withholding of federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists. What do you say?

A. PHILIP RANDOLPH: At this time, I have the honor to present to you the moral leader of our nation—

AMY GOODMAN: This is A. Philip Randolph.

A. PHILIP RANDOLPH: —a great, dedicated man, a philosopher of a nonviolent system of behavior in seeking to bring about social change, for the advancement of justice and freedom and human dignity. I have the pleasure to present to you Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King.

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.

So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

I say to you today, my friends, so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside!

Let freedom ring. And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking at the March on Washington August 28th, 1963, 50 years ago this year. It’s part of the film King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis.

We end today’s show by returning to Alabama 1965, where there were three historic marches from Selma to the capital Montgomery. The first took place March 7, 1965, and became known as “Bloody Sunday” after police attacked 600 marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. The second march came the following Tuesday, attracting more than 2,500 protesters, who were forced to turn around by police after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We hear from Dr. King as he successfully crosses the bridge along with thousands of others on the third march, under the watch of federal troops mobilized by President Johnson. Finally, we will hear Dr. King’s address in the capital of Montgomery, where the march triumphantly ends.

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: We have the right to walk the highway. We have the right to walk to Montgomery if our feet can get us there. We must let the nation know and we must let the world know that it is necessary to protest this threefold evil: the problem of the denial of the right to vote to police brutality—that we continue to face and faced in its most vicious form last Sunday—and then the attempt to block First Amendment privileges.

REPORTER: How do you feel about the protection being given you on this march?

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: I think this is a real demonstration of the commitment of the federal government to protect the constitutional rights of Negro citizens. The protection has been a very thorough, as you can see. And the men are working under the guidance, and certainly under the power and influence, of the federal government to see that things are carried out in an orderly manner. So I think that everybody has to recognize that this symbolizes a new commitment and a new determination on the part of the federal government to take the kind of vigorous line that will assure the rights of the Negro citizens of this nation.

REPORTER: Dr. King, how are things shaping up now for tomorrow?

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: Things are shaping up beautifully. We have people coming in from all over the country. I suspect that we will have representatives from almost every state in the union, and naturally a large number of people from the state of Alabama. And we hope to see, and we plan to see, the greatest witness for freedom ever taken place—that has ever taken place on the steps of a capitol of any state in the South. And this whole march adds drama to this total thrust.

Last Sunday, more than 8,000 of us started on a mighty walk from Selma, Alabama. They told us we wouldn’t get here. There were those who said that we would get here on their—over their dead bodies. But all the world today knows that we are here, and we are standing before the forces of power in the state of Alabama, saying, “We ain’t going to let nobody turn us around.”

Today I want to tell the city of Selma, today I want to say to the state of Alabama, today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. We are on the move now. Yes, we are on the move, and no wave of racism can stop us. The burning of our churches will not deter us. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. The wanton release of their known murderers will not discourage us. We are on the move now. Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom.

I know you’re asking today, “How long will it take?” Somebody is asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men?” I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again. How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because you shall reap what you sow. How long? Not long.

Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, yet that scaffold sways the future. And behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. How long? Not long, because mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on. He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat. He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet! Our god is marching on. Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking in March 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama, from the film King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis. Largely made from original newsreel footage, the film was played at a one-time-only event in 600 theaters on March 24th, 1970, two years after Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. The film has rarely been seen since, but it has just been released on DVD by Kino Lorber. It was produced by Ely Landau and Richard Kaplan

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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