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King: A Biography

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 504
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Acclaimed by leading historians and critics when it appeared shortly after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this foundational biography wends through the corridors in which King held court, posing the right questions and providing a keen measure of the man whose career and mission enthrall scholars and general readers to this day. Updated with a new preface and more than a dozen photographs of King and his contemporaries, this edition presents the unforgettable story of King's life and death for a new generation.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09478-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
    D. L. L.
  4. 1 Doctor, Lawyer—Preacher?
    (pp. 3-26)

    In Montgomery, people now point out with awe the place where Rosa Parks was put off the bus and into custody, often remarking, “That’s where it all began.” By “all” they mean not only the Montgomery bus boycott but the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born “a Negro” in Atlanta on January 15, 1929. Hindsight now suggests that his emergence as a civil rights leader, locally and then nationally, was inevitable in that place at that time. Yet Dr. King himself, when he passed that bus stop years later, marveled at what a different course the...

  5. 2 The Philosopher King
    (pp. 27-45)

    Chester, Pennsylvania, the site of Crozer Theological Seminary, is an industrial city with a population of about 66,000. It was here that William Penn and his followers first set foot on the real estate that a debt-ridden British sovereign had granted to his worrisome Quaker subjects. Little of the original spirit of brotherly love remained at the time that Mike King was a student there. A highly conservative plutocracy ruled the city, through bosses.

    Large parts of Chester, the better parts, were off limits to the black population, which subsisted in unpicturesque squalor in the western section of town. For...

  6. 3 Stride Toward Freedom
    (pp. 46-84)

    One Saturday afternoon in January, 1954, as he drove to Montgomery, Alabama, listening to the strains of a favorite Donizetti aria on his radio, Mike King was positive that he had made the correct choice in Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Dexter’s standards, he knew, were formidably high. His predecessor there, Reverend Vernon Johns, immensely respected if not loved, was emotional only in the domain of civil rights and given to sparse, iconoclastic eloquence. For his first test, therefore, Mike had burnished his finest sermon, edited out its more purple phrases, tightened its concepts. But he retained a judicious combination of...

  7. 4 Satyagraha, Home-grown
    (pp. 85-111)

    “It is becoming clear,” Martin prophesied at the end of the Montgomery struggle, “that the Negro is in for a season of suffering.” As the legal victories of American blacks accumulated, he anticipated a steeply rising curve of Southern obstructionism on the order of that at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and at the University of Alabama and, tragically, of the naked violence of the Emmett Till variety. Martin could not have realized then how completely his prognosis would be realized. If the white recoil to black legal gains was to be withstood, it was essential that black...

  8. 5 Skirmishing in Atlanta
    (pp. 112-139)

    It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a city whose black population was more smug and more affluent than Atlanta’s in 1960. Atlanta was a fount of black wealth and, ergo, black wisdom in the deep South. It was in its Citizens Trust Bank that the MIA had deposited a great portion of its funds. It was to Atlanta’s black Brahmins that the established leadership of Albany, Georgia, had come, in 1959, to submit its plan for desegregation of public facilities. It was told to wait The times were not right. Howard Zinn, professor of history at Spelman College,...

  9. 6 Albany, Georgia—Nonviolence in Black and White
    (pp. 140-170)

    In his Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. DuBois, the doyen of American historians, described Albany, Georgia, as a “wide-streeted, placid, Southern town, with a broad sweep of stores and saloons, and flanking rows of homes—whites usually to the north, and blacks to the south. Six days a week the town looks decidedly too small for itself, and takes frequent and prolonged naps.” Sixty years later, DuBois’s Albany remained unchanged in its essentials. With allowances made for the construction of many more buildings in brick and stone, the street and store lights made possible by the New Deal...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. 7 Birmingham—Nonviolence in Black, Violence in White
    (pp. 171-209)

    There were nearly 350,000 people; in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963; almost all of those who were black would have preferred. to live elsewhere. The widely held notion that burgeoning commerce and industry tend to make for social as well as economic progress was wholly inapplicable to this city. “The striking thing about Birmingham,” columnist James Reston wrote after a visit, “is that it seems so advanced industrially and so retarded politically.” Although it is the major center for the production of iron and steel in the South, Birmingham gave the impression of a city “which had been trapped for decades...

  12. 8 The Strength of a Dream
    (pp. 210-263)

    While Birmingham sutured its wounds, Martin undertook a triumphal tour from California to New York. In Los Angeles, 25,000 people turned out to hear his description of the recent struggle and bold prognoses of grander accomplishments. Nothing typifies better Martin’s uncanny ability to weave into his elevated speeches the arresting homilies of the untutored black. “I say good night to you by quoting the words of an old Negro slave,” he told this audience: “ ‘We ain’t what we ought to be and we ain’t what we want to be and we ain’t what we’re going to be. But thank...

  13. 9 Crisis and Compromise—The Walk to Selma Bridge
    (pp. 264-296)

    “You see, most of your Selma Negroes are descended from the lbo and Angola tribes of Africa,” Circuit Court Judge James Hare told a visiting journalist by way of explaining the city’s history of terrible racial oppression: “You could never teach or trust an Ibo back in slave days, and even today I can spot their tribal characteristics. They have protruding heels, for instance.” The heels of Selma’s blacks were a costly anatomical peculiarity indeed. Fourteen thousand four hundred whites, by legal ruse and naked force, had limited the number of black voters to 1 per cent of the registration...

  14. 10 The Fire Next Time
    (pp. 297-312)

    The period between the selma and the Chicago Campaigns is an amorphous one. SCLC Newsletter reported a Midwestern People-to-People tour, an appearance at the White House, an SCLC plenary convention, European awards and speaking engagements, rallies—a maelstrom of activity for which not even the excitement of Martin’s rhetoric would overcome the tedium of narration. Beneath this explosive activity was that impregnable region of Martin’s psyche that brooded, pondered, and conceived in isolation. Now that the lunch-counter era was closing, he was feeling his way to new positions.

    There were four issues that he needed to consider carefullv: (1) the...

  15. 11 The Pied Piper of Hamlin Avenue—Chicago and Mississippi
    (pp. 313-353)

    There are dozens of cities in America blighted by bossism, poverty, crime, corruption, police brutality, and civic indifference to the poor and the racially disadvantaged. Probably none of them rivals Chicago in the perfection of these evils collectively. Of its 3.5 million people nearly 1 million are black, and almost half of these are impoverished. Of those who are not, not many are well above the poverty line. And the overwhelming majority are concentrated in the appalling residential sumps located on the city’s south and west sides. “I have never seen such hopelessness,” Hosea Williams confessed after a month in...

  16. 12 Killers of the Dream
    (pp. 354-389)

    “For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of the society, a little change here, a little change there,” Martin said in the summer after Chicago. “Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values.” This social reconstruction and revolution of values entailed at the barest minimum, he added, the rebuilding of the cities, the nationalization of “some” industries, a review of America’s foreign investments, and a guaranteed annual income. J. Pius Barbour has always maintained that Martin was a revolutionary, that he found...

  17. Epilogue: Free at Last
    (pp. 390-397)

    Martin Luther King, Jr., had told them that he wanted a simple and brief service when he died. Instead, his last rites were protracted, elaborate, and fussily confused. The Vice-President of the United States, the chief contenders for presidential nomination, fifty members of the House of Representatives, thirty senators, a regiment of mayors, and at least a platoon of foreign dignitaries, not to mention the legion of distinguished private citizens, attended his funeral. The news reporters described Ebenezer as a humble little church, giving the impression of a rickety simplicity that was pointlessly erroneous. It is not, of course, a...

  18. Postscript: Reflections after a Decade
    (pp. 398-406)

    Ten years have passed since Martin Luther King, Jr., was slain. It seems much, much longer, for the time in which he lived, the sixties—by any measure the most revolutionary since the upheaval of the Civil War—is now as remote as the Progressive Era or the Great Depression. Even more remote, perhaps, because its institutional traumas and psychological spectres are still so much with us that they induce a becalming collective amnesia. It is unlikely that future generations will mature in ignorance of Martin King’s name, but it is even now true that college history majors are hazy...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 407-424)
  20. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 425-446)
  21. Index
    (pp. 447-468)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 469-472)