"Return of the King" is the ninth episode of the Adult Swim animated television series The Boondocks. It originally aired on January 15, 2006.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. awakes from his 32-year coma to find a world different and intolerant to his philosophies.
The episode begins with two quotes, the first being:
“ I want young men and young women who are not alive today to know and see that these new privileges and opportunities did not come without somebody suffering and sacrificing for them. ” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
And the second:
“ Whatever, nigga. ” -Anonymous
Huey Freeman tells an alternative version of history regarding the "attempted" assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. On April 4, 1968. King is shot and critically wounded. Instead of dying, he falls into a coma in which he remains for 32 years, waking up significantly aged in a hospital bed on October 27, 2000. He shows up to vote for the 2000 U.S. presidential election, but is "turned away due to voting irregularity". While walking along a city street which happened to bear his name, gunshots go off, causing the gathered crowd to flee. He thus learns that "streets named after him weren't the very safest."
King experiences a resurgence of popularity, obtaining a book deal and agreeing to a biopic of his life (starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. as King). The movie is directed by Oliver Stone, "pissing off" Spike Lee (a reference to Lee's anger that Norman Jewison was initially supposed to direct Malcolm X and to Lee being angered of Michael Mann being selected to direct Ali). Unfortunately, the movie is released the week after the 9/11 attacks, making it a flop. Soon after, King appears on Politically Incorrect, stating that his Christian faith teaches him to "turn the other cheek", even with respect to enemies such as Al-Qaeda. His commentary receives severe scorn from the White House Press Secretary, CNN and Time magazine, and causes his popularity to plummet.
At his vacant book signing, King meets Huey and Robert Freeman, the latter of whom he is acquainted with from the Civil Rights era (it is later revealed in the episode that Robert Freeman participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott with Rosa Parks, but was completely ignored). Robert prank calls Rosa Parks out of retaliation. Learning that he is staying in a Holiday Inn Express, the Freemans invite Dr. King to dinner and to sleep at their house. Riley rudely disrespects Dr. King during dinner and thus earning a spanking from Grandad. Riley hates Dr. King even more while being spanked. Later that night, Huey and King, while watching television, express their disgust with the state of black popular culture.
The next day, Huey persuades King to try to reach out to the public again. While eating at a McWuncler's, a parody of McDonald's (where King guiltily admits to having an affinity for the McRib), Huey convinces him that the two of them should start a political party, although King is insistent that Huey should get Oprah Winfrey to do so instead. King appears on a television show to explain the philosophy of his new party, but finds himself unable to expound due to frequent interruptions from the fast-talking, curt, bowtie-wearing right-wing host (voiced by Jim Meskimen). Right before a commercial break, Huey rushes the stage after throwing a chair at the host, beating him on camera. Afterwards, King and Huey settle on spreading their message the old-fashioned way: through flyers and door-to-door solicitation.
The goal of their party is further disrupted when King hires an "urban promotions firm" to advertise the party's planning meeting, which advertises it on an FM radio pop music station as a "party." As a result, dozens of young black people arrive at the church and begin behaving as though it were a club. A bouncer (voiced by DJ Pooh) prevents Huey and King's entrance, insisting that they must bribe him, which they do. Upon entering, they are stunned by the unrestrained behavior of the reveling crowd and are shocked to find that the podium has been taken over by a series of rappers, televangelists, and other superficial black pop culture icons. King, managing to get to the podium, tries to quiet the crowd by appealing to the audience's sense of brotherhood. He fails. Suddenly becoming fiercely impassioned, he proclaims, "Will you ignorant niggas please shut the hell up?!" The crowd is shocked.
King then goes on to ask: "Is this it? This is what I got all those ass-whoopings for?" He continues to refer to the audience repeatedly as "niggas" out of apparent frustration that the current generation of black people have willfully assumed the negative racial stereotypes associated with them. He goes on a tirade, attacking specific elements of black popular culture such as Black Entertainment Television, Usher, and Soul Plane. King concludes his speech by saying, "I've seen what's around the corner, I've seen what's over the horizon, and I promise you, you niggas have nothing to celebrate! And no, I won't get there with you. I'm going to Canada."
King thanks Huey, advising him to "do what he can." Media exposure of his speech causes black citizens to become angry with their situation, creating an uprising similar to those of the 1960s. The episode concludes with protests of enraged, young black men and women screaming at the gates of the White House, cursing an unnamed presidential administration. Several news channels report that all black members of the NBA are sitting the season out until "troops are withdrawn", that drop-out rates among African-American youths have suddenly plummeted, and that Robert L. Johnson issued a public apology for founding BET. Finally, the front page of a newspaper from 2020 is shown, revealing that King has died in Vancouver, British Columbia at 91 and, furthermore, that Oprah Winfrey has been elected president.
Huey concludes the episode with these words: "It's fun to dream.", stating that this whole episode was Huey's interpretation as to what would happen if MLK Jr. have lived instead of being assassinated in '68.
"Return of the King" was the most controversial episode of The Boondocks's first season. The episode received criticism from Al Sharpton for depicting Martin Luther King Jr. using the term "nigga". He demanded an apology from Aaron McGruder and Cartoon Network, stating "Cartoon Network must apologize and also commit to pulling episodes that desecrate black historic figures. We are totally offended by the continuous use of the n-word in McGruder's show."
Cartoon Network replied by releasing a statement saying, "We think Aaron McGruder came up with a thought-provoking way of not only showing Dr. King's bravery but also of reminding us of what he stood and fought for, and why even today, it is important for all of us to remember that and to continue to take action." McGruder himself responded to Sharpton's criticism in The Boondocks comic strip, by having the characters ridicule Sharpton's choice to attack a cartoon over other, more relevant issues. The characters in the strip never specify the cartoon to which they're alluding. The incident was also referenced on the show, in the episode "The Block is Hot." While Huey listens to an internet radio station, the broadcaster mentions that Al Sharpton: "Folks, this heat will not let up, it is hot! Speaking about hot, Al Sharpton is hot right now. Havin' a big ole protest. Seems his anger again has something to do with... I think it's a cartoon this time..."