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Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, JR., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

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Author: David J. Garrow

Published: January 6th 1999 by Harper Perennial (first published December 1st 1986)

Format: Paperback , 800 pages

Isbn: 9780688166328

Language: English


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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Based on more than 700 recorded conversations, including interviews with all of King's closest surviving associates, this is a powerful portrait of King and the movement for which he dedicated himself.

30 review for Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, JR., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tom LA

    "Early morning, April 4th, Shot rings out in the Memphis sky, Free at last! They took your life, They could not take your pride" (Bono, U2). I learned so many things from this book. For example, that MLK was assassinated at 6 pm, so Bono got that wrong in his lyrics when he says "early morning". Then of course "pride" rhymes a bit with "life", so it worked in the song, but other than that, i believe it would be a poor choice to summarize the spirit of Martin Luther King with the word "pride". "Beari "Early morning, April 4th, Shot rings out in the Memphis sky, Free at last! They took your life, They could not take your pride" (Bono, U2). I learned so many things from this book. For example, that MLK was assassinated at 6 pm, so Bono got that wrong in his lyrics when he says "early morning". Then of course "pride" rhymes a bit with "life", so it worked in the song, but other than that, i believe it would be a poor choice to summarize the spirit of Martin Luther King with the word "pride". "Bearing the cross" is a long book. 800 pages with 170 pages of footnotes. It is, as the cover says, "the most informative life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the most thorough study of the civil rights movement" (from the New York Review of Books). Note that this comment does not express any literary quality, or, for that matter, any reason at all why you should read this book unless you need to do a research on MLK and you don't have access to Google. The writing is as dry as sand. Most of the book can be described as a collection of data and facts, organized in chronological order, from Rosa Parks to MLK's death. Many paragraphs begin with "The following day", or "Later that afternoon" or even "Twenty minutes later". That's the level of detail!! Garrow took many years to put this book together, and he had access to an immense amount of hard-copy information, from interviews to newspapers to copies of FBI wiretaps. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the subject matter is so important and fascinating per se, that it still resounds and shines despite the flat, dry writing. To be fair to the author, at some points he will concede a little dramatization, in the choice of a particular verb or in the semi-emotional conclusion of a chapter. Mind you, we are talking about 1% emotion and 99% cold delivery of facts. But emotion and drama is precisely what Garrow wanted to avoid. As he says at the end, "by idolizing those whom we honor, we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves". His goal seems to be the 360 degrees representation of MLK as a man, almost as a reaction to all the hype and drama that seems to engulf and cloud MLK's history. I can tell you that after reading this book I feel like I know MLK thoughts, feelings and motivations much, much better than what I did before. And that is a good thing. I can tell you that this man's life should celebrated even more than what it is today, for what it represents. His weaknesses, his womanizing, his over-eating and his vanity, are dwarfed by his achievements and by the historical weight of the civil rights movement. MLK was not the only black movement's leader, he was not the smartest, he was not the first or most original. But he became a symbol. That he accepted to live as such an important symbol for the last 10 years of his life, while thinking of quitting almost every other day, is a remarkable thing. One thing above everything else differentiated him and elevated his message to real "majestic heights": his relentless commitment to non-violence. Now, I felt the importance of MLK's religious faith was addressed but not properly highlighted by Garrow. It's understandble, for when you collect an endless series of facts, you won't find much that says "on that morning, he knelt down and prayed for 10 minutes", etc. Unfortunately, Garrow touches on MLK's spiritual side only at the beginning, ignoring it almost completely for the rest of the book. This is in line with the fact-shoveling style of the book, but it pays little respect to MLK's most important relationship, the one he had with God. Despite the author's lack of interest for the importance that King's spiritual life had for himself and the people around him, the author never forgets to mention that King, whatever he was doing, was always "extremely tired", "exhausted", almost every two pages. It gets ridiculous after a while. Oh, I certainly believe it to be true. Not hard at all to believe. To keep up with his schedule, he was taking some non specified "pills". Again, not surprising at all. Every big political figure, today like in the past, is constantly using medicines and drugs to be able to keep going at that super-human pace. But if you find the time to write that Dr King was exhausted all the time, had a slight bronchitis on that day, and a cough the other day, why don't you find any time to mention his constant, daily praying, or at least some comments on some religious sermons he held, that was far more important stuff? One time MLK goes on holiday and then he's back on the road for a series of speeches, and again every single thing Garrow describes must be preceded by "despite his exhaustion, King did this and that...". Please give me a break. MLK was a big boy, a 30-something man with the constitution of a bull who, just like thousands of businessmen, yesterday and today, had to fly around and work long hours. Is that so out of the ordinary? I was really baffled by this aspect of the book. Perhaps writing the book became such an exhausting task for Garrow that he found the need to express his own feelings of exhaustion through MLK's life? But i'm overthinking here. At any rate, I really enjoyed reading this book. This is history at its most detailed, which means you are free to judge and jump to conclusions, but not to invent something that is not true, or to exaggerate things. I found particularly grippong the part about the relationship with the FBI, and the conflict with J E Hoover, the Darth Vader of those years. MLK was a pastor. He came from a priviledged background. He was a very gifted and spiritual man, who was chosen by history to play a special, unique part. Watching his speeches and interviews (on youtube) after having read this book is a particularly moving experience. Despite being aware of his shortfalls and weaknesses, you are even more inspired and filled with admiration. And what an orator. In the words murmured by JFK immediately after the "I have a dream" speech in Washington: "He is damn good".

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cliff

    It's a bit difficult to know quite what to say about this book. It won the Pulitzer prize, undoubtedly because it was a very well chronicled and researched exploration of one of the most influential men of the 20th century in America, Martin Luther King, and probably the first real look at the man in such a format. On one hand, this book lives up to what it promises. It is incredibly well documented and detailed, they had their research lined up perfectly. And it is about a great man during diff It's a bit difficult to know quite what to say about this book. It won the Pulitzer prize, undoubtedly because it was a very well chronicled and researched exploration of one of the most influential men of the 20th century in America, Martin Luther King, and probably the first real look at the man in such a format. On one hand, this book lives up to what it promises. It is incredibly well documented and detailed, they had their research lined up perfectly. And it is about a great man during difficult times so it's hard not to find much of it enthralling. Particularly in the beginning, you can almost feel a young MLK getting swept up in a cause much bigger than himself, and choosing to bear the cross he was given, more with a hallowed resolve than great enthusiasm. Indeed, the book makes clear that MLK saw his mission with a certain sense of fatalism of which he was willing to endure for God than something he planned or would have chosen for himself. But that's just what reinforces his greatness. Unlike many who have followed (I won't name names, but your guesses are probably correct), he was not someone looking to make a name for himself or create an industry based around his person. He was someone willing to be a name if it was necessary to achieve an end he knew to be right. Yet the book stumbles somewhat, as it goes on, particularly toward the last quarter or so. In a certain sense, it reflects reality. MLK's life became one of drudgery in a sense, of one speech after the next, of one march after the next, and for a cause that, instead of becoming clearer, became only more muddled after substantial victories. While this might be accurate, it certainly became less fascinating toward the end. Garrow might have been able to circumvent this if he'd wanted to explain the larger context of what was happening and discuss what MLK's and the greater civil rights movements victories meant, but he stays focused on MLK. Perhaps this is best for what he was trying to do. None-the-less, I feel that while this might be the first and certainly an important take, there is more to the story that could have been added (I'm interested in checking out Taylor Branch's take). As for MLK himself, this is definitely a "warts and all" take. It doesn't shy away from discussing his serial adultery, those few advisers around him who genuinely did have communist ties (which the FBI used to justify their surveillance), his occasional self-pitying moments, his seeming passiveness in resolving important problems within SCLC, and his occasional rhetorical lapses and misjudgments of character. All of this is not to mention the actions of the past two or so years of his life, where he moved from being focused on a more traditional civil rights agenda to a full on push for socialism (although not communism), and his horrible misjudgment of Vietnam, or at least of the intentions of the Viet Cong and Ho Chi Minn. For all but the far left, his ideas here seem quite clearly ill formed, at best a distraction and at worst a betrayal of some of the things he had stood for (although he never gave in to full-on anti-Americanism the way much of the left did in the late 60's). Of course, some of his followers, even those close to him, saw it as the best in him. All this is only to say that this isn't a book that chronicles a saint. It chronicles a real man in history doing a difficult job during difficult times under difficult circumstances. Very, very few emerge from these situations unscathed, and MLK is not an exception. The book is stronger for it. It's very interesting to see the gradual development of black history that I've unintentionally read about this past year (reading Fredrick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, WEB DuBois, as well as a book by Stephen Carter and now this). It's fascinating and frustrating. There are no easy answers, even still, to the remnants of America's "original sin" of slavery, which are with us to this day. All I can say is that it's something I want to continue to learn more about.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    A comprehensive biography of Martin Luther King Jr. He is obviously the most significant figure in the latter half of American history in the 20th century. Martin Luther King is the moral conscience of America bringing attention to its racism and its obsession with materialism. King always stressed and believed in non-violence. He was ignored by the Eisenhower administration and persecuted by the Kennedy’s. It was Robert Kennedy who authorized the wire-taping of King’s residence and hotel rooms. A comprehensive biography of Martin Luther King Jr. He is obviously the most significant figure in the latter half of American history in the 20th century. Martin Luther King is the moral conscience of America bringing attention to its racism and its obsession with materialism. King always stressed and believed in non-violence. He was ignored by the Eisenhower administration and persecuted by the Kennedy’s. It was Robert Kennedy who authorized the wire-taping of King’s residence and hotel rooms. One senses (as the author suggests) something very underhanded from Hoover, given the sexual escapades of the Kennedy’s. Hoover and his F.B.I. come off as the most sinister force in America. Instead of pursuing and investigating racist crimes in the South (the bombings and the killings) here they were devoting time, energy and money to listening to conversations of King with alleged communists. They tried blackmailing him for his sexual indiscretions. The F.B.I. should have been criminally prosecuted for these activities. To the credit of the Johnson administration they were not interested in the trivial information provided by the F.B.I. Mr. Garrow paints a picture of a strained King, particularly in the later years. Even though he succeeded in forcing through Civil Rights and Voter Legislation as law, King still experienced America as a deeply troubled society – as racist and militaristic. Violent riots were occurring in American cities starting every summer in 1965. The Vietnam War was escalating and getting out of control. American troops were starting to be portrayed as pursuing an aimless war for a corrupt South Vietnamese regime. King’s ambiguities reflected the troubled climate of his country. This book is largely an examination of King the man. He comes off as a deeply moral person with a backbone and principals. Despite being warned to stop speaking to Stanley Levison and Bayard Rustin by the Kennedy’s he kept soliciting their advice. He needed and trusted these men more than the government and saw no reason to cease speaking to them. In a sense he paid a price for this because it gave the F.B.I. more ammunition to increase its surveillance. This book examines well the relationship King had with those around him and points out the inter-personal issues they had with each other. Mr. Garrow is very good at exploring all the different Civil Rights groups that sprang up during the 1950’s and 1960’s and their rivalries. SCLC was King’s group that originated with the Montgomery bus boycott. Mr Garrow indicates that SCLC was fragmented in its approach to resolving problems –it would abruptly move into and out of cities and ignore the local folks and the other Civil Rights groups (NAACP, SNCC, CORE) that had a stronger local base. King was seen as a moral leader of what appears at times to be a rather diffuse team. Just a small note that in my paperback edition the text was very small so it made this detailed book appear more so. Because it examines King’s life on an almost day by day basis it can be somewhat dry – but the events themselves are always of great interest. Despite the “Epilogue” summaries I do find King to be a most heroic person – an individual who tried desperately to help and better his fellow man.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    We went to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis in June 2015. It is located at the site of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. When you approach the museum, it looks eerily familiar. There in front of you is the motel with its vintage sign and outdoor walkways and parking spaces filled with vintage cars. People of a certain age might feel as if they had stepped back in time, right back into the famous photo of King's associates pointing to the location where the s We went to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis in June 2015. It is located at the site of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. When you approach the museum, it looks eerily familiar. There in front of you is the motel with its vintage sign and outdoor walkways and parking spaces filled with vintage cars. People of a certain age might feel as if they had stepped back in time, right back into the famous photo of King's associates pointing to the location where the shots originated. There are two cars parked below MLK's room, and there in front of you is the outside walkway on which he died (with a memorial wreath to mark spot). And there it is, the 1960s all over again. And just across the street (also now a part of the museum) is the building with the bathroom from which James Earl Ray shot MLK. I was 11 years old when MLK died, and I have not forgetten the moment in the evening when we heard he had been shot and killed. About two months later, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in California after winning the presidential primary. These two murders helped to define 1968 as a year of tragedy, a year that would end with the election of Richard Nixon, the result being a president who was determined to continue our involvement in the Vietnam War. For me, this book helps to illuminate an important part of my past, a past I was too young to understand as it was taking place. This is a fairly long non-fiction book about MLK and his organization the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from its inception up until King's death. For me, history makes for a slow read. But it was worthwhile, if only to make me realize how little I knew about King as a real person -- as opposed to the mythic figure who fought for justice and civil rights. King turns out to have had the same reactions to his life that people under incredible stress and duress have. He was frequently depressed, he was frequently exhausted, and some of his stress-reducing solutions (extra-marital relationships, plus frequent overindulgence in sex and alcohol) placed him in jeopardy from both internal and external forces. King always felt that he had to be (at least in the public eye) an upstanding family man, and he felt guilty about the reality of being human, that is, being flawed and not always living up to his own standards. I guess the biggest surprise for me was how radical (especially given today's political climate) King and some of his Civil Rights associates and rivals were. People talked revolution and King, at least in private, embraced what he termed democratic socialism. He was against the Vietnam War from the get-go, although the politics of the time resulted in him soft-pedaling the issue at times. What made King stand out in his time was his consistent message of non-violence and his commitment, despite an incredible personal toll, to the cause of bettering the lives of others. That MLK was a great man, I always believed, but this book demonstrates how difficult the course of his greatness was, how much sacrifice it required of him and his family, and how extreme the cost, not just his death but the toll taken on his life. The book relies heavily on FBI files, and provides some good info on the FBI's leaks and attempts to discredit King by publicizing his private life. It also deals very bluntly with King's shortcomings, his loose approach to the staff of his organization, his sexist attitudes towards women, and how that translated into a long-term struggle with his wife Coretta over her proper role. There is a quote from Charles Willie at the end of the book that I found apropos: "By idolizing those whom we honor, we do a disservice to them and to ourselves. By exalting the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr, into a legendary tale that is annually told, we fail to recognize his humanity -- his personal and public struggles -- that are similar to yours and mine. By idolizing those whom we honor, we fail to realize that we could go and do likewise." The real King is far more interesting a person than the saintly King we may have imagined, and all the more deserving of our admiration for being human and having struggled with his humanity.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Teijo Aflecht

    Very well researched and interesting as long as one is already invested in the civil rights struggle and the life of King - the writing is dry as desert sand. Glad the book focused heavily also on the overall civil rights struggle, especially as King's private life or philosophy are not described in great detail, or at least with particularly engaging writing. Garrow reminds us about a thousand times that King was tired/exhausted/sick. Still, worth a read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sherry Sharpnack

    This book was S-L-O-W. It was an exhaustively detailed look at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s participation in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It honestly read like a day planner. I don’t know if it was my Kindle version’s editing, but the chapters were very long and could have profited from better divisions between subjects, which sometimes seemed to switch mid-paragraph, even. Also the book ended when I was 64% into it, so don’t read this book on your Kindle if that sort of thing bothe This book was S-L-O-W. It was an exhaustively detailed look at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s participation in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It honestly read like a day planner. I don’t know if it was my Kindle version’s editing, but the chapters were very long and could have profited from better divisions between subjects, which sometimes seemed to switch mid-paragraph, even. Also the book ended when I was 64% into it, so don’t read this book on your Kindle if that sort of thing bothers you. I enjoyed reading about the Montgomery boycott, the march in Selma, and most especially Dr. King’s extraordinary, Black-preacher rhetoric. It always lifts me up to his “mountaintop” when I read or hear it. As I always think of Bill Clinton,”Great men have great flaws.” This is so very true of MLK, Jr’s plagiarism in one of his books, his excessive eating and drinking towards the end of his life, and most especially his womanizing, especially disturbing to me after his marriage. I deplore his misogyny, and am sure that greatly contributed to his marital disharmony. Coretta wanted to be far more involved in his non-violence movement, but he always felt that “a woman’s place is in the home.” Hmpf. The author’s scholarship is detailed and mind-boggling. I’m sure that is why this book won a Pulitzer Prize. I’m glad I stuck with it, even though I won’t give it over 3 stars.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Rush

    Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the most fascinating human beings to have ever walked the face of the Earth. For 12 ½ years of his life, he stood in the spotlight of public attention as a leader of The Civil Rights Movement. King, at first, was a reluctant leader, but at some point, he saw that the Movement was bigger than himself, that the whole Movement was destined to change society. King saw his role in the Movement as not unlike his Call to preach. King felt that God demanded his particip Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the most fascinating human beings to have ever walked the face of the Earth. For 12 ½ years of his life, he stood in the spotlight of public attention as a leader of The Civil Rights Movement. King, at first, was a reluctant leader, but at some point, he saw that the Movement was bigger than himself, that the whole Movement was destined to change society. King saw his role in the Movement as not unlike his Call to preach. King felt that God demanded his participation in the Movement, and being the person that he was, King fundamentally understood that his DNA could not say no to God. Thus, he answered the call to be active in the Movement affirmatively. Though he was a reluctant participant, King saw his role as the Cross that he must bear, and this concept goes a long ways towards explaining how Garrow came up with his title. This book is almost a day-to-day account of King's life from the time he became famous during the Montgomery Bus Boycott until his death. The book is also an example of majesterial scholarship, with Garrow having well over 130 pages of notes, a sign that he was thorough in doing his homework. There are many who will make the argument that this book is boring, that it is just a string of day-to-day events just strung together. Anyone who says this is not taking the time to get at what is being stated within the book, for it is the kind of book that cannot be read in bulk, meaning that if a person tries reading this book 30 pages at-a-sitting, he will miss out on what it has to offer. I read the book patiently, concentrating on just 2 pages at a time. Sure it took me quite a while to read it, but the rewards I gained from reading it in this manner are beyond explanation. I make the case that this book is the finest, most comprehensive, subtle and nuanced biography that has ever been written about M.L.K. In sum, I am saying that one cannot find a finer account of King's life than this one. Garrow is equal to his subject and has done a masterful job in putting this book together. This is an excellent biography. King's life has many sides, with many interesting details. A close personal friend of King named Professor Vincent Harding taught a college class on King, with a really interesting twist. The story of what happened is detailed in the book "Reality's Pen: Reflections On Family, History & Culture" by Thomas D. Rush on pages 48 and 194 in a piece called "The Picture On The Wall." At the current time, David J. Garrow is researching an approved biography of President Barack Obama, which is said to have an expected release date sometime in 2016. Professor Garrow called author Thomas D. Rush in March of 2014 to interview him regarding two private conversations Rush held with the President in January of 1989 while working as a Community Organizer. Professor Garrow told Rush during that conversation that Rush's book is well-written. Rush's account of his meetings with President Obama appears on page 95 of Rush's book in a story called, "You Never Know Who God Wants You To Meet."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chronics

    This book focuses on MLK's idealogy and the practical actions he takes to implement those ideas, as the book progresses we witness his progression from a reluctant activist to a destined civil rights leader. It starts with a fairly brief introduction of his chilldhood before devling into his formative years and most importantly what would become the basis of his beliefs, an intersection of his religious church based upbringing combined with a university education steeped in philosophical and the This book focuses on MLK's idealogy and the practical actions he takes to implement those ideas, as the book progresses we witness his progression from a reluctant activist to a destined civil rights leader. It starts with a fairly brief introduction of his chilldhood before devling into his formative years and most importantly what would become the basis of his beliefs, an intersection of his religious church based upbringing combined with a university education steeped in philosophical and theoretical doctrines. From early on there are hints of the internal battles he would go on to face as he attempted to combine his academic and spiritual background with the practical tasks he believed were destined upon him. The author then chronologically delves into his first pastorship, his moment of enlightenment in his time of need during the Montgomery bus boycott and the birth of the SCLC. The next 13 years or so are then covered in conjunction with the major events of the time and the specific projects the SCLC undertook from Selma to Chicago. This book is literally about MLK and his relationship the SCLC, not the general civil rights movement, it often goes into acute detail on the strategies utilized by the organization but nevertheless always keeps reminds the reader of context in which these projects took place, it ends with his death, note it does not go into any detail or controversy over his death. There is a huge amount of knowledge to be amassed from this book, it is not in anyway what I would call an introduction to MLK and the SCLC, but more a very detailed summary of MLK and his relationship with the SCLC, the dynamics between SCLC and other activists and groups during that period the civil rights era, most notably SNCC, Bayard Rustin and Stanley Levinson. It also attempts to give as intimate as possible an account of his family life and the impact his work had primarily on MLK himself but it does not completely neglect the impact it may have had on family life. If ta genuine account , autobigoraphy style of his family life interserped with his work life (or the other way round) is what you're interested in, then I would expect there are other books the depict these aspects. There are however numerous quotes and recollections from those closest to him. In summary, I think its fairly simple, this is probably the best book out there about the life of MLK, if your are looking to learn specific subjects (ie the SCLC), or review his speeches, there is surely better material available, if you want to learn more about the man, his commitment to non violence and the movement he was heavily involved in, at any depth more than a high level overview, then this is an excellent book to read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sam Motes

    An unflinching look at the life of man who embraced his destiny and lead his people through very turbulent times during their fight for dignity and respect. Garrow's work is very detailed and almost feels like a minute by minute account of the events of Martin Luther King Jr and the SCLC. The book did a great job of pointing out not only his strengths and courage but also his flaws as a man susceptible to the failings of the flesh. The epilogue points out that when we idolize our hero���s we mak An unflinching look at the life of man who embraced his destiny and lead his people through very turbulent times during their fight for dignity and respect. Garrow's work is very detailed and almost feels like a minute by minute account of the events of Martin Luther King Jr and the SCLC. The book did a great job of pointing out not only his strengths and courage but also his flaws as a man susceptible to the failings of the flesh. The epilogue points out that when we idolize our hero���s we make their accomplishments seem super human and far beyond the abilities of mere mortals but Garrow definitely doesn't fall into the trap. I also like the face that King's assassin only got 6 minutes at the end of the book to document his dark deed and Garrow didn't even defile his work with his name. Leave that to other works that focus on that tragic act. Garrow focuses on King's life and the accomplishments of the SCLC.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Reid Mccormick

    This is the most comprehensive, articulate book I have ever found about Martin Luther King, Jr., the SCLC, and the Civil Rights Movement. Garrow does an amazing job detailing every aspect of the struggles of the Civil Right Movement. Every meeting, every conversation, every thought during these troubled times can be found in this book. You read about joys, trials, triumphs, and tragedies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and beyond. It is astonishing how much I did not know about Martin Luther King, Jr. This is the most comprehensive, articulate book I have ever found about Martin Luther King, Jr., the SCLC, and the Civil Rights Movement. Garrow does an amazing job detailing every aspect of the struggles of the Civil Right Movement. Every meeting, every conversation, every thought during these troubled times can be found in this book. You read about joys, trials, triumphs, and tragedies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and beyond. It is astonishing how much I did not know about Martin Luther King, Jr. His story is so inspiring: an incredible journey from pastor's boy to the most influential leader of the 20th century.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jfarley

    This book could become tedious, if it wasn't so good. The level of detail is astounding, and gives an almost minute by minute account of King's ascent from citizen to icon. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all here, which is what is compelling about the story: These people weren't superheroes, they were ordinary folks. That did great things. I can't recommend this enough.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Made me realize how shallow my knowledge of the civil rights movement and MLK's role was ... and most likely still is. Though it skims quickly over his youth and the indiscretions of his adult years, it's hard to imagine a more complete biography. In reading bios of Washington, MLK, and other icons I've realized that what I'm looking for are the dimensions that turn them from symbols into men, flawed and human in their greatness.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    This comprehensive, scholarly yet accessible biography of Dr. King has already won the Pulitzer. Neither Net Galley nor Open Road Integrated Media really needs a review from me. Yet, because it is only now being released digitally, I saw the opportunity to read it free, and I leapt up hungrily and grabbed it while I could. But if you have to pay to read it, I will tell you right now, you will get your money’s worth and more. The crossing of that bridge in Selma, Alabama was 50 years ago. You know This comprehensive, scholarly yet accessible biography of Dr. King has already won the Pulitzer. Neither Net Galley nor Open Road Integrated Media really needs a review from me. Yet, because it is only now being released digitally, I saw the opportunity to read it free, and I leapt up hungrily and grabbed it while I could. But if you have to pay to read it, I will tell you right now, you will get your money’s worth and more. The crossing of that bridge in Selma, Alabama was 50 years ago. You know right now that racist cops are still a problem throughout the USA, but the institutionalized American apartheid that was Jim Crow throughout Dixie is dead and gone. Much remains to be done, but what was accomplished by Dr. King and hundreds of thousands of African-Americans, along with other people of color and a handful of progressive white folks, is very much worth celebrating. For many years I have wanted to read more of Dr. King’s speeches. School children are sick to death of the Dream speech, however brilliant and visionary it was at the time. It’s been used so often that it’s almost like the Pledge of Allegiance, tired and recited without a lot of meaning or enthusiasm by those too young to recall how radical the Civil Rights activists were considered back then. Garrow draws heavily from King’s speeches and letters here, and I was once more electrified to see what an eloquent person he was. As Garrow explains, Dr. King did not set out to be a leader of anything except a good-sized church. He saw his entry into the theological world as that of a social activist, certainly; he received his BA in sociology, not religion or philosophy. But he had initially perceived his leadership role as that of mentor and guide to the congregation of a Black church in the American south. That was all he expected to become. When Rosa Parks was arrested for failing to yield her seat at the back of the Birmingham bus, demonstrations began to burgeon, and E.D. Nixon, a leader in the struggle, called upon King to speak at a key rally. After that, events unfolded and he found himself at the helm of a movement that was larger than any one person, but it needed a leader, and he was that man. He was just twenty-six years old. King quickly learned that in order to effect change, he had to gain the sympathy and agreement of a large segment of the American public, and at the time, that public was overwhelmingly Caucasian. Black folks were less than fifteen percent of the population, so they would need allies. In order to gain allies, he needed the media, particularly the big-city newspapers and television stations of the north. And in order to grab those headlines, show up on the evening news, he had to expose ugly, brutal repression. Because attempting to gain integrated facilities in a southern locale where he and his fellow activists would merely be cold-shouldered was just not newsworthy. Smart southern sheriffs who adapted the strategy of not hauling away those who sat illegally at lunch counters or entered stores through the whites-only entrance, but merely telling the proprietors to leave them there but not serve them and eventually they’d go away, were wicked but smart. The media would leave, disappointed to have traveled all that way without bloodshed or arrests, and the practice of segregation would continue, legal or not. So in order to get the national news coverage that the Civil Rights movement had to have in order to turn the tide of public opinion, King had to lead people right into the teeth of the buzz saw, over and over and over again. Where’s Bull Connor? Let’s go there! Where is the Klan the ugliest, nastiest, most brutal? Put that place at the top of the list! And over the course of time, Americans saw it on the evening news, on the front page, and they responded. The death threats piled up. Were it not so horrifying, it would be funny to note the number of times a vehicle blew up, a building was hit by a Molotov cocktail, shots were fired just where a moment ago Dr. King had been sitting, standing, talking, sleeping. He spoke to his wife and associates often about death, because he knew he could not get out of this movement alive, nor could he abandon it. He had never, ever led anything before, apart from being student body president at his small college. Now he was thrust into the ultimate position of leadership. The activists who were already involved in struggle needed a minister, because a minister was a peaceful person, above reproach morally. They needed someone handsome, someone inspirational, a man that could speak eloquently. And Martin King, as he was then known (his father being “Daddy King”) was their man. Years later, exhausted, suffering from clinical depression, King considered looking for a successor. Surely one person should not remain at the helm indefinitely. Perhaps he could, after all, lead a normal life, go home to Coretta, who was pissed at him for always being gone and not including her in his activities, and become a full time pastor at his church once more. Then he won the Nobel Peace Prize, and although he was overjoyed at the honor, in another way, it weighed heavily upon him, because it was clear that now, he was the symbol. He was in it for keeps. The eyes of the entire world had likened him to the struggle against racism. There was a lot of money attached to that prize, too. King was determined to donate all of the proceeds to the movement. Coretta asked if they couldn’t just take a small piece off for the children’s college funds? Nope. He didn’t even want to own a house, didn’t want anyone to charge that he was living larger than the average Black man in the American South. He was determined to live in the same kind of house, in the same neighborhoods that everyone else lived in. Eventually he agreed to buy a small brick house in an African-American section of Atlanta, but he worried that even that was too much. Others saw it and were surprised by how small, how humble it was. But King was concerned lest he place himself above others in struggle. Later, he would ignore the advice of others in the movement when they told him to back off his opposition to the Vietnam War. It was a principled stand, and it cost him his support from the Johnson administration. He saw it as a key part of antiracist work; the US war against the people of Vietnam, the constant bombing, was related to race, and he saw it and said so. The biography, which is carefully documented and also has a complete index, chronicles his most glorious triumphs, and also his struggles. Depression laid him really low, and nobody had any Prozac back then. I found myself wondering whether “hospitalized due to exhaustion” simply meant that his depression had got the better of him, and he had gone to bed and was unable to get up. I’ve been close to depressive folks, and I have seen it happen. It’s almost as if they are weighted to the bed. And again I find myself thinking what a young age he was, so very inexperienced, to be saddled with this enormous task. There were other struggles as well. The FBI wired everything, everywhere he went. They documented his affairs so that they could blackmail him with them. Oh minister who is above reproach, look what we’ve got on you! And back then, that was a real thing. It would have created a scandal. King told one of his closest associates that he lived out of a suitcase for 25-27 days out of the month, and that sex relieved tension. And in 2015, the public, even probably many churchgoers, would see it and nod. His marriage was very tense, but Coretta was careful to present a staunchly supportive front, because there had to be unity in order to keep the focus on ending institutionalized racism. But in 1965, a prominent minister with women-on-the-side might well have been shunned by his own people, no matter how many times he stood at the pulpit and proclaimed himself a sinner. Politically he foundered at times as well. During the struggle to end Jim Crow, primarily from 1955-1963, the crowds were there, overwhelmingly African-American of course, and they were ready to do what it took. They would march with or without him, but to prevent agents provocateur from turning peaceful marches to riots, King’s staunchly nonviolent leadership was key. But what if the courts told King he could not march? Should he go, or should he stay? He waffled. He wasn’t sure. What was at the root of racism? He was sure it was the profit motive, and repeatedly stated, later in his career, that there needed to be a radical restructuring of the country’s wealth. But to foment an armed revolution was beyond him, and he was stuck in the rut of calling for mass civil disobedience. At this point in my review I will break away from King’s story for a moment and speak of my own experience as an activist for various causes. I organized a lot of marches, carried a lot of bullhorns, and I will tell you this one thing: masses of people will not usually commit civil disobedience. When the march is over, the marchers don’t need a police record. When it’s time to wake up and go to work, they can’t be in a jail cell. They may have people depending on them, or they may just not want to go through the prison system, and who can blame them? Frankly, I wouldn’t either. I sometimes worked with people that wanted to participate in civil disobedience, but that whole thing had to be kept clear and separate from the rest of the march. The crowd needed to know when it was time to go home if they didn’t want to face arrest. And Dr. King did not understand this. You can have mass marches and mass rallies if you build them and promote them well enough. Or you can have a few people commit civil disobedience. But the one thing he wanted, later in his career while trying to end racism in Chicago, in Cleveland, in Detroit, and that in most situations you just cannot have, is massive civil disobedience. So toward the end of his career as well as the end of his life, King was trying to put together a march on Washington, DC in which the participants would put up tents on the lawns of the capitol, sit in the Attorney General’s office and refuse to leave, until…and there, the list of demands was ever-changing. This was never going to happen, and he was frustrated by the lack of support he received from others in the movement when it came down to this plan. If you are unfamiliar with the various organizations and individuals within the Civil Rights movement, you may have difficulty keeping up with the names and the acronyms. I had no trouble, but I also came to the book with the basics under my belt. The most famous organization, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was fiercely jealous of King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). They saw it as divisive to have more than one civil rights-based organization. They also saw it as a threat to their dues base. Everything possible was done to keep these backroom skirmishes out of the public eye and present a solid front, but sometimes word leaked out. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was the group that brought the lunch counter sitters and the Freedom Riders. They were bitter, and at times rightfully so, because they went out on a limb and did things that SCLC promised to reimburse and then failed to do so. When the big collection was taken at one march or another, they expected their gas money back, and money for car repairs. They’d gone into this with little other than the shirts on their backs, and when the money promised them never arrived, they were pissed. They also never forgave King for refusing to go on the Freedom Rides with them. But when all is said and done, King did the very best, if not better, than any man in his circumstances could be expected to do. He knew it would cost him his life, and he did it anyway. Without his leadership, what would have happened? History always marches forward, never backward, but things might have played out very differently. A lot more people might’ve gotten dead trying to achieve the same objective. For those seeking the definitive biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, look no further. This excellent, Pulitzer winning work deserves a place of pride in everyone’s library.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    This amazing book speaks for itself. It's only weakness may be in too much focus on the man rather than the movement because both are so incredibly interesting; flaws and all. "Maybe something is wrong with our economic system the way it's presently going," King sug gested, noting that in democratic socialist societies such as Sweden there was no poverty, no unemployment, and no slums. "There comes a time when any system must be reevaluated," and America's time was at hand." "More and more we have This amazing book speaks for itself. It's only weakness may be in too much focus on the man rather than the movement because both are so incredibly interesting; flaws and all. "Maybe something is wrong with our economic system the way it's presently going," King sug gested, noting that in democratic socialist societies such as Sweden there was no poverty, no unemployment, and no slums. "There comes a time when any system must be reevaluated," and America's time was at hand." "More and more we have got to come to see that integration must be seen not merely in aesthetic or romantic terms; it must be seen in political terms. Integration in its true dimensions is shared power." One past shortcoming, he said, was that "all too many people have seen power and love as polar opposites," when in fact "the two fulfill each other ... power without love is reckless, and love without power is sentimental." Previous misconceptions had to be put aside; "we must recognize that we can't solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of eco nomic and political power," "I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today-my own government." "The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit." America's reactionary stance, King said, was rooted in the country's refusal to give up the exploitative profits derived from over seas investments. "If we are to get on the right side of the world revolu tion, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person oriented' society "There are few things more thoroughly sinful than economic injustice," he told a church convention in Texas. "Negroes are im poverished aliens in an affluent society," and the road ahead would be difficult. In a particularly revealing passage, King indicated how troubled he had become: We are gravely mistaken to think that religion protects us from the pain and agony of mortal existence. Life is not a euphoria of unalloyed com fort and untroubled ease. Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear. To be a Christian one must take up his cross, with all its difficulties and agonizing and tension-packed content, and carry it until that very cross leaves its mark upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way which comes only through suf fering .... Will we continue to march to the drum beat of conformity and re spectability, or will we, listening to the beat of a more distant drum, move to its echoing sounds? Will we march only to the music of time, or will we, risking criticism and abuse, march only to the soul-saving music of eternity?" "We build people. People build organiza tions. Organizations move." That should be the campaign's course of development." -Jim Bevel "Jim Bevel sounded a different note, saying that electoral participation would not attain the types of changes the Chicago campaign ought to seek in American society: You fight a machine by making people grow so that they don't fit into the machine any more. We ought to be realistic enough to say that if we do in the next two years what we have done in the last two, we won't be any further along then than we are now. We've got to go for broke. But a crucifixion is necessary first. If Negroes can't break up a ghetto in fifteen months, they will never get out. Let us be more inter ested in doing something about the ghetto than in securing candi dates .... We are going to create a new city. Nobody will stop us-not Daley, not the syndicate. We need laborers ... an army." "Another friend broached the subject of his compulsive sexual athleticism with him after being prompted by a worried mutual acquaintance. "'I'm away from home twenty-five to twenty-seven days a month,"' King answered. '"Fucking's a form of anxiety reduction.'" "King expressed to Rustin and Lee how his visit to Watts had brought home to him more than ever the material and spiritual desolation that shattered the lives of the millions of black citizens trapped in America's ghettos. "I'll never forget the discussion we had with King that night," Rustin recalled. "He was absolutely undone, and he looked at me and said, 'You know, Bay ard, I worked to get these people the right to eat hamburgers, and now I've got to do something ... to help them get the money to buy it."' "The next day King met the Norwegian press and said he viewed the trip as an educational opportunity for him and his colleagues. "We feel we have much to learn from Scandinavia's democratic socialist tradition and from the manner in which you have over come many of the social and economic problems that still plague a far more powerful and affluent nation." "I would rather stay in jail the rest of my days than make a butchery of my conscience .... I'm ready to go to jail with my colleagues; I will die there if necessary." E. D. Nixon angrily rebuked them. "Somebody in this thing has got to get faith. I am just ashamed of you. You said that God has called you to lead the people and now you are afraid and gone to pieces because the man tells you that the newspaper men will be here and your pictures might come out in the newspaper. Somebody has got to get hurt in this thing and if you preachers are not the leaders, then we have to pray that God will send us some more leaders." King responded. "I can see no conflict between our devotion to Jesus Christ and our present action. In fact I see a necessary relationship. If one is truly devoted to the religion of Jesus he will seek to rid the earth of social evils. The gospel is social as well as personal." Walter Rauschenbusch, the "social gospel" theolo gian of the early twentieth century. Rauschenbusch, a social reformer who held pastorates in New York City, had argued that religion must be relevant to real world problems and that the church should be actively involved. His writings also emphasized a very optimistic view of society's chances for progress and man's possible pefectability. Man's selfishness, Niebuhr had stressed in a 1932 book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, was the major barrier to justice in society, and men in privileged groups were the most persistent in obstructing any efforts to improve society. "Disproportion of power in society is the real root of social injustice," Niebuhr argued, and "economic power is more basic than political power." Because of these persistent inequalities, "relations between groups must therefore always be predominantly political rather than ethical." Social-gospel thinking was blind to these painful truths about modern society. In a paper where he tackled the arguments made by Niebuhr, King now argued that one must adopt both the ethical love emphasis of Rauschenbusch and the realists' stress upon political power. "The balanced Christian," King stated, "must be both loving and realistic ... As an individual in complex social relations he must realistically meet mind with mind and power with power." The answer should not be an "either-or" choice, it should be "both-and." The love ethic could work well in direct relationships, but in the larger social setting coercive power was necessary to increase social justice. "Whereas love seeks out the needs of others, justice ... is a check (by force, if necessary) upon ambitions of individuals seeking to overcome their own insecurity at the expense of others."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    Martin Luther King Jr. is as close to a secular saint as America has. Every child learns the outlines of the story, the non-violent activist with a dream who was martyred for the sins of a racist nation. Garrow has written a deeply researched account of King's career with the SCLC, but I'm in an effort to avoid drama or grandiosity, I think this book misses the forest for the trees. King was thrust into leadership when he just 25, with the Montgomery bus boycott prompted by Rosa Park's refusal to Martin Luther King Jr. is as close to a secular saint as America has. Every child learns the outlines of the story, the non-violent activist with a dream who was martyred for the sins of a racist nation. Garrow has written a deeply researched account of King's career with the SCLC, but I'm in an effort to avoid drama or grandiosity, I think this book misses the forest for the trees. King was thrust into leadership when he just 25, with the Montgomery bus boycott prompted by Rosa Park's refusal to give up her seat to a white person. Parks was selected as a test case for Brown v Board of education by the local NAACP, and King as a newcomer to the city was thought to be less influenced by city fathers. The boycott, a combination of non-violent activism and organizing, proved effective over more than a year of effort, bringing King to national attention, and leading to his calling as a civil rights leader. King and the SCLC was at the center of the civil rights movement, a central front between the more conservative NAACP and firebrands of the SNCC. And King showed energy, fortitude, and moral courage. Yet its interesting that the account of the book reveals a much more desperate and hardscrabble movement popular history. Civil rights was always unpopular, always fighting uphill. King's moral center worked best against overt brutal segregationists like Birmingham Police Chief 'Bull' Connor, who could be counted on to do something stupid in front of the cameras. Yet the SCLC had perennial organization problems and conflicts with local activists, rarely building something new. Garrow skims lightly over King's personal problems, his serial infidelity, exhaustion, and likely use of prescription stimulants, the last being common in the 1960s. The man was a man, not an angel, and had human appetites, though Garrow does not dive into salacious detail. King had a reputation as moderate, and compared to the rising Black Power activists he was, but he also had a keen sense of universal justice that drew him to take unpopular stances against the Vietnam War in 1967, at immense cost to political alliances with President Johnson and much of the Democratic establishment. His last effort was a multiracial Poor Person's March, to demand a much more robust social safety net, including what in 2020 would be called universal basic income, before he was assassinated. So about that forest, it's a counter-intuitive judgement, but King wasn't actually much of an organizer or politician. What he had was an absolute moral clarity about the fundamental injustice of America, and about the possibility for national redemption. I think that's the real story of King, not where he traveled and when he gave a speech. The book is at it's best when Garrow quotes King at length, or reveals a personal anecdote; King was a talented mimic and enjoyed teasing impressions of close friends, contentious late night meetings devolving into pillow fights, the perennially late King pausing on his way to a board meeting to ask a church janitor about his wife's back. This is a key reference for the facts, or at least one interpretation of the facts, given the fallibility of human memory, but Bearing the Cross is a door stopper of a book, and I'm still looking for a volume on King I love.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Bearing the Cross does two things extremely well: it provides an in-depth, honest account of MLK, Jr.’s life, and it chronicles the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s role in the 1960’s civil rights movement. The latter is what I found most interesting, and relevant to current events. The SCLC, with Martin as its leader, formed, in a sense, as a response to Brown v. Board of Education. Brown represented a huge legal victory for the NAACP, but many black people weren’t experiencing any ta Bearing the Cross does two things extremely well: it provides an in-depth, honest account of MLK, Jr.’s life, and it chronicles the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s role in the 1960’s civil rights movement. The latter is what I found most interesting, and relevant to current events. The SCLC, with Martin as its leader, formed, in a sense, as a response to Brown v. Board of Education. Brown represented a huge legal victory for the NAACP, but many black people weren’t experiencing any tangible changes in its wake. SCLC’s goal was to use protests and other non-violent tactics to pressure local governments to actually enforce the rights that the Supreme Court had announced: in other words, while the Court said separate-but-equal was illegal, communities ruled by white people (i.e. most everywhere in the U.S.) needed a visceral push to actually enforce the ban on legal segregation. In providing this push, SCLC utilized the national press, and the pressure it could exert on local businesses. By setting up dramatic confrontations with white police and white mobs, SCLC would draw the country’s attention to the brutal repression of a particular city. This pressure cleaved the white leadership in two: while the elected politicians remained stubborn in their racism and often persisted in refusing to negotiate, often the businessmen became more moderate, as their bottom-lines were being disrupted. Eventually the SCLC would negotiate for some sort of settlement in which a stop to protests was traded for some actions/promises regarding desegregation or e.g. hiring of black people. At a high level of generality, the three civil rights organizations discussed in this book all wanted the same thing: an end to racial discrimination; equality. But once you delve into the nitty-gritty of how to bring that about, it gets tricky. If the NAACP advocated for moderate top-down change through the courts (call it centrist), and SCLC used nonviolent demonstration to exert pressure both at the local level and via national levers (like the press, and Congress; call it center-left), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), emphasized only grassroots organizing, empowerment of local communities/groups (call it leftist). Martin found himself (and the SCLC) in the middle of two organizations that were, throughout the 1960’s, becoming outright hostile in their words about each other. He struggled with trying to present a united front (to the country/to white people), and with his own frustrations with both groups. SNCC’s strongest criticism of SCLC was that SCLC used local people as means to an end. The black residents of Selma (and the out-of-towners) went through hell. Yes, the vivid abuse there produced the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and yes, the local volunteers harbored few illusions about the brutality they’d experience, but SNCC still charged that even two years post-1965, things in Selma were about the same as they always had been, and SCLC had effectively abandoned the community there. In fact, the slow rate of change in white people’s behavior even after federal legislation led to SNCC becoming more militant, especially after Stokely Carmichael took over for John Lewis, leading to his popularizing of the phrase “black power.” Martin, and SCLC’s, frustration with SNCC was that their rhetoric was divisive, and could stoke a white backlash, undoing the progress made up to that point. The inter-organizational struggles were fascinating, and sometimes almost made-for-TV, like the last-minute wrangling over John Lewis’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington--which could have scuttled the all-together image the leaders wanted. On to the personal. Bearing the Cross isn’t a hagiography. Martin was a brave man, selfless in many respects, but also an unstoppable womanizer, a misogynist who alienated several would-have-really-helped-SCLC women (e.g. Ella Baker), and absent husband. And that’s okay. We should celebrate him for the good he did, without needing to pretend he was without flaw. His ability to restrain his emotions and sacrifice himself for the movement is evidenced in so many of his actions, but one stands out as a nice example of his bravery and humility, informed by his excesses. J. Edgar Hoover publicly called him “the most notorious liar in the country”; instead of sniping back, Martin leaned on all his DC connections to set up a face-to-face meeting with Hoover, and smoothed things over. He was likely eager to prevent an all-out war in the press because he knew the FBI had damaging information about his numerous affairs, information that would brutalize his image as the moral compass of the entire civil rights movement. (The extent of the FBI’s stalking and harassment of Martin is hard to overstate, from bugging his landline at his home and his hotel rooms, to writing him a threatening letter encouraging him to commit suicide to prevent the release of incriminating audiotapes of him.) Two final observations that I couldn’t tie into anything above. Terrorism was flourishing in 1960’s America. Nearly every chapter of this book documents acts of terrorism by white people against black people: a leader’s house bombed, a protestor’s face smashed, girls going to church blown up, and finally, of course, Martin himself getting assassinated. MLK Jr. was not a moderate, at least in the last few years of his life, post-1965. At this point, he observed that the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and the 1965 Voting Rights Act didn’t effect change of the type he was hoping for. He remained an advocate for nonviolence, but when riots broke out, he disclaimed their methods, but did not let society off the hook, claiming “riots are caused by nice, gentle, timid white moderates who are more concerned about order than justice,” and “by a national administration more concerned about winning a war in Vietnam than the war against poverty right here at home.” (572) Martin wanted deep, structural change, a shift to democratic socialism. He opposition to the Vietnam war was intense; he deemed the U.S. government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” (552) Read this book if you’re interested in 1960’s U.S. history, or protest/reform movements generally. Highly, highly recommended, as it's exciting and exhaustively researched (see the endnotes) while feeling timely despite being winning the Pulitzer almost 30 years ago.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brian Ross

    I've been meaning to read this book for awhile, but was finally inspired to do so by seeing the film "Selma." This book is a comprehensive history of the civil rights struggle, particularly through the lens of MLK and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I would recommend it as a reference to anyone researching MLK, the civil rights movement, and the groups and organizations that comprised it. It is exhaustively researched and well written. However, be aware that the author, who comes fr I've been meaning to read this book for awhile, but was finally inspired to do so by seeing the film "Selma." This book is a comprehensive history of the civil rights struggle, particularly through the lens of MLK and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I would recommend it as a reference to anyone researching MLK, the civil rights movement, and the groups and organizations that comprised it. It is exhaustively researched and well written. However, be aware that the author, who comes from the legal world, writes this book like a legal brief. It provides the facts and descriptions, the chronology, and much detail on the internal politics that underlay both the civil rights movement and its opponents. Garrow certainly draws a picture of King and the other characters, and I'm pleased to say this is no hagiography; the warts are clearly on view. That said, it can be pretty dry at times. It says something about how truly outrageous was the injustice perpetrated throughout this account that I found my blood boiling with anger despite the matter-of-fact recounting of events. And there is lots to learn here. As is always the case where history passes into legend, one discovers a lot of what we "know" about this period "ain't necessarily so." One small example is to compare the story here with the portrayal of the 3 months around the march to Montgomery shown in "Selma." Some of the events in the film didn't happen during that time, or in that place, so technically are historically inaccurate, although I'd argue that they do provide valuable context to understanding the film and are not materially problematic. Some other items are perhaps less forgivable - I think the portrayal of President Johnson is somewhat unfair - the frustration with the President's inaction is more true of their dealing with Kennedy around Albany. One major incident - the "Tuesday turn-back" shown in the film (the second attempted march, where King turns the march around to go back to Selma) appears as a moment of lost nerve for MLK - when in fact, as a result of pleading from the Administration, MLK had actually reluctantly made a deal with the authorities in order to avoid possible bloodshed and the apparent violation of a federal court order seeking to delay the march until a hearing on the troopers blockade could be held. That said, the accusations and bitterness shown afterwards, indeed were there, but for different reasons. Although it makes for dry reading, I found the account of the division within the civil rights movement fascinating - perhaps because the jealousy, jostling for power, sometime incompetence, dubious behavior and relationships, crises of conscience and and competing agendas between groups and individuals resonates so clearly for me with how human affairs really work. Or don't. The flip side to that was the impressive analysis and thought devoted to the philosophy, strategy and tactics of the movement. Although much was driven by events and the often un-coordinated actions of many players, there was also a very carefully thought out short and longer term strategy at work, that entailed some very hard, perhaps ruthless decisions, such as deliberately courting violent reaction from the authorities in order to publicly demonstrate through press coverage the ugly underbelly of segregation. That didn't involve just theory - it meant putting real people in danger - mostly volunteers who were trained and prepared for it, but also sometimes not, such as the high-school students recruited to march in Birmingham. The second half of the story - post-Selma - deals with 1965+ where the movement began to refocus on issues of poverty and economic discrimination in northern cities. It was less spectacular than the battle for enforcing the right to vote, but was, in MLK's own view, at root of much of the black struggle - and as present in the North as the Deep South. The period from 1965 through 1968 features a more politicized King, struggling for economic justice and the elimination of the ghetto. As time passes, he becomes ever more dubious about the actual gains that have been made by the movement to date. Most dramatically, he concludes that the reform goals of the movement are no longer enough - he increasingly believes that American society is fundamentally flawed and needs to change. Quoting from the book: "The decade of 1955 to 1965, with its constructive elements, misled us. Everyone underestimated the amount of rage Negroes were suppressing, and the amount of bigotry the white majority was disguising...[but] I am not ready to admit defeat..." He continues: "The movement for social change has entered a new time of temptation to despair, because it is clear now how deep and how systemic are the evils it confronts." He sees those evils as an economic and political system that exploits everybody - creating an underclass not limited to blacks - in the service of property and profit. As a result, "Let us therefore not think of our movement as one that seeks to integrate the Negro into all the existing values of American society, but as one that would alter those basic values. As Andrew Young noted, "Even if you're a winner in the rat race, you're still a rat." This is a profound shift in his views and leads him to take stands and advocate actions which confront the conscience not just of his opponents, but his supporters too. He explained his increasingly vocal opposition to the Vietnam War as that in his morality non-violence applied to every aspect of life - foreign policy too - and felt he could not avoid the subject despite the consequences of doing so. Near the end, exhausted, depressed and at odds with those advocating violence, he even expressed doubts about the efficacy of non-violence - but nevertheless retained his commitment to it as the moral course of action. I'm left with nothing but awe for people and a movement that could retain their commitment to non-violent protest in the face of the provocation they endured, up to and including death. I can't help but wonder what further evolution MLK would have undergone if he had lived - although, given his state of mind and health by 1968, I wonder if his time was nearly over even without the assassin's bullet. My next book will be a bio of Malcolm X to see the struggle from a very different perspective.

  18. 4 out of 5

    John

    This was a long and heavy read. It never attempts to eulogise Martin Luther King, although in some ways it plays down some of his failings, particularly his personal ones. He was clearly an inspiring figurehead, who cared little for personal aggrandisement or wealth and who worked tirelessly to serve the cause of non violence, clearly at considerable harm to his own health. But it is also clear that he was a failure as a leader of an organisation, his management skills were poor and he had littl This was a long and heavy read. It never attempts to eulogise Martin Luther King, although in some ways it plays down some of his failings, particularly his personal ones. He was clearly an inspiring figurehead, who cared little for personal aggrandisement or wealth and who worked tirelessly to serve the cause of non violence, clearly at considerable harm to his own health. But it is also clear that he was a failure as a leader of an organisation, his management skills were poor and he had little regard for necessary structures to be built under him. There are a series of showpiece elements that demonstrate his rhetorical ability which I found very moving. I had not realised before that his assassination came when he was at his lowest ebb about his mission. Given how well researched this book clearly is, I was surprised, earlier this week, to read the obituary of Rev Joseph Lowery in which he was described as a key ally of King’s. In this book he barely gets a mention - odd? By the way I gave it only 4 stars because I do not think it is that well written.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Casey Taylor

    Great book. Learned much about MLK and his efforts in the Civil Rights Movement.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Valorie

    David J. Garrow has provided an extensive study of Martin Luther King Jr. and his work within the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in his book Bearing the Cross. With a title that portrays the religious and spiritual aspect of King’s personal civil rights vision, as well as the exhaustive extent of the undertaking that would take its toll on King both physically and mentally, Garrow too has undertaken quite a task in writing his in depth and fact filled study. Using hundreds of so David J. Garrow has provided an extensive study of Martin Luther King Jr. and his work within the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in his book Bearing the Cross. With a title that portrays the religious and spiritual aspect of King’s personal civil rights vision, as well as the exhaustive extent of the undertaking that would take its toll on King both physically and mentally, Garrow too has undertaken quite a task in writing his in depth and fact filled study. Using hundreds of sources, in fact over 600 interviews alone, Garrow has compiled a complete record of King’s civil rights journey from the moment he entered the Montgomery Improvement Association’s (MIA) bus boycott all the way to his death. However, the book is about more than just King, and that is one of the greatest strengths of Bearing the Cross. The story is really the story of a wider Civil Rights Movement, one in which King would become a leading figure and icon of. Bearing the Cross is undoubtedly a personal story, and everything within is connected to King in some form be it through his participation, association, support, or opposition. King had so many connections in the Civil Rights Movement that to tell his story is to tell each individual story, which Garrow attempts to do when he delves into subjects such as the Freedom Rides, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Selma, the Voting Rights Act, Northern ghettos, and Vietnam, just to name a few. Not only does this portray just how much momentum the movement had, which grew in fervor and activity as the years progressed, and how large it grew, but also what King himself took on when he shouldered the responsibility of becoming one of the major leaders. As reviewers David Herbert Donald and William C. Stinchcombe have noted, Garrow misses occasional opportunities to analyze King, and we are therefore sometimes made to take King at face value with just a selection of his decisions or quotes to flesh out his intentions and feelings. ((David Herbert Donald, “Review: [untitled],” The Journal of Southern History 54, no 1 (February 1988): 135-137; William C. Stinchcombe, “Review: [untitled],” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 19, no. 2 (Autumn 1988): 367-369.)) While there are moments when we can see the personality and intentions of King come through his words as he speaks for himself to explain his motivations, especially when he talks about his passion for the Civil Rights Movement and his willingness to die for it, other times are a bit more obscure and we are left to wonder why King did some of what he did. For example, Garrow writes that King had expressed some hesitation to be included on a petition to help activist Carl Braden out of a charge of contempt of court. The wife of Carl, Anne, was disappointed that she would likely not get King's support. However, King changed his mind and phoned her to ask that she place his name on the petition because he had prayed over it and decided it was right (155). This would have been a perfect time for Garrow to attempt an analysis of the whys of King's action, yet he does not take advantage of the opportunity to use his vast knowledge of King to explain this change of heart, or why King would put himself in such a politically precarious position by association. Perhaps in the cases where Garrow did not analyze, he hoped that his facts would speak for themselves and he was wary of trying to get into the head of King for fear of making too many assumptions that he could not support. Yet Garrow attempts to create a narrative out of the intense amount of facts he includes, and this leads him in some cases to make a few assumptions of King that he cannot, or rather does not, substantiate. For instance, in one of the many discussions of the SCLC's financial mismanagement, Garrow writes that King brushed off the accusations made at the SCLC’s leaders, but felt they were accurate when he truly thought about it (469). Garrow leaves the statement at that and does not attempt to follow up with any evidence to support it. It seems that Garrow is trying to create a more enjoyable story by including elements of intimate understanding, yet they are not always satisfactory and the text is still dense with dates and an intense volume of fact. That is not to say that a reader will come off not knowing who King was. In fact, Garrow is very adept at including aspects of King's personality and life that many people do not know or consider. There is a definite evolution of character from King's kitchen revelation (58), to his trip to India where he refined his own method of resistance as he learned more about Gandhi (114), all the way to his ultimate loss of faith in white men and democracy (604). It is also surprising to learn that King, known as such a great rhetorician, often had others write his speeches and chapters in his books. This aspect almost makes it seem as if King was a popular figure speaking out the ideas of groups, and more pessimistically, a pawn of other thinkers since so many of his ideas were molded by others who could influence or persuade him (139). This does not, of course, tarnish his reputation or his much deserved respect, it merely opens up a new facet to King's overall focus on collectivity. King did, after all, assert many times that he acted for his people and that the movement did not depend on him and would continue on without him, which means there were other thinkers in the background. Also surprising were the revelations Garrow made about King's misogyny and views on sex (141 & 374-376). King is an icon, certainly, but now also a man who had his own faults, and at times very fatalistic (232). One other objection to be taken with this novel is its treatment of the NAACP. Garrow is in no way objective when he discusses the animosity that began to grow around the NAACP and King/SCLC. As described by Garrow, the NAACP on various occasions attempted to smear the SCLC or hinder them in their progress in voting rights. The NAACP would naturally take a special exception to King's assertion that attempting to change the country in front of a judge and appealing for change was not the proper approach, but rather that resistance such as they had been done in Montgomery was vital (87). The two groups had a natural ideological difference. Garrow is unfair in his language, and even goes so far as to include the statement, "With allies like the NAACP, SCLC's effort had little chance of success" (103). Granted, the NAACP was in conflict with King, Garrow should have exercised a little more neutrality and fairness when discussing these occasions. A final thing must be said about Garrows endnotes. Though he provides a glossary of his abbreviations in the back of the text, his endnotes are still confusing and hard to sift through. Maybe it is his sheer volume of sources that complicates the system, but it does not help that much of his citations are made up of letter and number combinations. When perusing through to find a source, one must flip back and forth to try to make sense of what is being identified and where to finally find it. Though the short form of the citations clears up space, it leads to too much confusion for students and scholars who may want to follow up on his research. It may seem as if there is nothing good about this book since most of what has been written about it so far has been critical, but the sheer extent of Garrow's research should be praised. When writing on a figure as big and as important as Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who has had much already written about him, one naturally has an understanding of him that they approach studies of him with. Even lacking in the occasional analysis, Garrow provides a vast array of information that pieces together King's life into one continuous and chronological story. Even if we do not come off understanding the finer details of King's mentality, we still see how events flowed along a never ebbing, but wavering line, and how ideas melded and split. It is this dynamic that is important to understanding the larger picture of the Civil Rights Movement. So much is encompassed in Garrow's story that it is almost too much to read and remember in one reading. Despite some of its faults, it is without a doubt a vital book to the history of African Americans, Civil Rights, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Danny Aguilar

    In the Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, David J. Garrow gives an incredibly thorough account of the latter years of Dr. King’s life, and the development of the Black Freedom Movement from the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, to The Poor People’s Campaign and King’s death in 1968. Over 150 pages of notes and a bibliography, including several hundred interviews, exposition of several of King’s writings, a In the Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, David J. Garrow gives an incredibly thorough account of the latter years of Dr. King’s life, and the development of the Black Freedom Movement from the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, to The Poor People’s Campaign and King’s death in 1968. Over 150 pages of notes and a bibliography, including several hundred interviews, exposition of several of King’s writings, and remarkable documentation of FBI files on King and the Movement, all provide the content for Garrow’s 624-page account of the Civil Rights leader’s life during the Movement. The title of the volume alludes to the central theme in the book: Martin Luther King was a man with a strong sense of self-sacrifice, informed by his theology of the cross, as something “that we must bear for the freedom of our people” (148). That is, Garrow’s King emerged as a Civil Rights leader, not because of ambition or a messiah complex, but because the movement was “thrust upon him” and his deeply seated religious principles required him to respond (229). Yet, this man of noble principles was also no saint. In my opinion, the greatest value of this volume, as stated by King’s sister, is that it “demythologizes one of our heroes” (625). The two-fold goal of this essay is to provide an exposition and a critical evaluation of Garrow’s interpretation of Martin King and the Black Freedom Movement, and to argue that Dr. King and the Movement can provide invaluable resources and inspiration for social change today. ..... Bearing the Cross not only provides a deep look into its subject, it also offers a counter-narrative to “mainstream” conceptions of King as a “‘rather smoothed-off, respectable national hero’ whose comfortable, present-day image bears little resemblance to the human King or to the political King of 1965-1968” (625). To anyone today who has that impulse “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [their] God” (Micah 6:8), I would urge you to read this volume because it shows that “The movement made Martin rather than Martin making the movement” (625). To paraphrase the book’s Epilogue: If we could understand that one of our greatest symbols for social justice was a human being as ordinary and as flawed and as unlikely a legend as any one of us, then maybe, we in the church or broader society could stop waiting for a great charismatic personality to lead us toward justice, and we could start asking ourselves, “What can we do to pursue justice, love, and peace?” READ FULL REVIEW HERE: http://thetatteredrose.wordpress.com/...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Whiskey

    Late one night in 1956, MLK sat in his kitchen thinking about stepping back from the civil rights moment. But then he heard a voice say, "Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth." From that moment, he was committed. Garrow focuses on what gave MLK strength during his historic struggle. Bearing the Cross is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about Martin Luther King Jr. and his participation in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Rosa Parks was a tired tailor's assistant on her way home fr Late one night in 1956, MLK sat in his kitchen thinking about stepping back from the civil rights moment. But then he heard a voice say, "Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth." From that moment, he was committed. Garrow focuses on what gave MLK strength during his historic struggle. Bearing the Cross is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about Martin Luther King Jr. and his participation in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Rosa Parks was a tired tailor's assistant on her way home from work when she unwittingly became a pawn of history. Mrs. Parks was asked to give her bus seat up so that a white passenger would not be forced to ride the bus seated across from her. Mrs. Park's refusal sparked a bus boycott that would not only force the integration of Montgomery's buses but would create a legend in American history. Martin Luther King, Jr. had only a few months before accepted his first pastorate at Dexter Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. A man called King, and asked to use his church for a meeting about a possible bus boycott. King hesitated to become involved. However, in a short amount of time, King would be made the president of a new organization created for the sole purpose of running the bus boycott. King was not the only leader involved in the boycott, but it was King's name that made the newspapers, and it was King who people remembered when the boycott ended successfully. Inspired by the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, King decided there needed to be a new organization, one with a membership of black Christian leaders, which could pick another area of segregation to attack and change like they had in Montgomery. An invitation to southern leaders went out and the succeeding conference culminated in the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization designed to promote integration throughout the south. Shortly after the SCLC's creation, a group of college students began a protest of their own at lunch counters throughout the south. An organization sprang from this group of college protestors, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which would welcome King and the SCLC as advisors in their future works. The SNCC was eager for change and immediately jumped at the suggestion of testing the interstate travel laws that said that all bus terminals should offer integrated waiting rooms and lunch counters to interstate travelers. The ensuing bus rides, called the Freedom Rides, were without incident until they reached the south. Outside Anniston, Alabama, one of the buses was attacked by a mob and firebombed while its sister bus was boarded by an angry mob and its passengers beaten. The Freedom Riders refused to give up and continued their journey. The Attorney General was forced to intervene on behalf of the riders, but a mob still attacked the passengers and severely beat many of them. However, the rides continued. New riders continued to join the fight, picking up the journey each time another team was beaten or scared off by mobs of angry whites. The rides continued until it became clear that change would not be achieved through this method. Not long after the last of the Freedom Rides ended, the SNCC and the SCLC turned their attention to voter registration. During this period, several SNCC representatives found themselves in Albany, Georgia, where local activists had been trying for years to achieve change in segregation and the blatantly unfair treatment of blacks. The SNCC representatives began organizing students in protests to test many different facets of segregation in this small town. The protests grew larger and larger until an organization was formed of multiple civil rights organization leaders to govern them. Before long, King was asked to come join the demonstrations that had already resulted in the arrests of hundreds. Despite the fact that some leaders resented his presence, King arrived in Albany with the hope of bringing national attention to the struggles in that small town. King was arrested during a protest march, garnering the desired affect, and creating a situation in which the Kennedy Administration was forced to send a mediator to encourage a settlement between white city leaders and the black leaders. Due to the fact that the Albany settlement did not include all the desired demands and did not effectively change segregation in the city, it was looked upon as a failure. King and his fellow leaders took a long hard look at their actions in Albany, picked out the mistakes, and took what they had learned into future demonstrations. A short time later, King and his fellow leaders turned their attentions on Birmingham. King carefully orchestrated a group of protests that were designed to force the city into segregating their businesses and public buildings and allow equal opportunity employment for blacks. King began small by boycotting downtown stores and staging sit-ins at local lunch counters. Later, peace marches began in the streets of Birmingham, pushing the local Public Safety Commissioner into showing his hand by bringing out attack dogs and using fire hoses on the protestors. The pictures that filled the papers after these marches horrified the country, and Birmingham was soon forced into negotiations. Despite minor mistakes made during this time, King considered Birmingham a success. Flying on the excitement of a win in Birmingham, King decided it was time to pressure the President into creating a federal mandate that would end segregation throughout the nation. King could not get a meeting with the President, so he began to plan a march on Washington that was designed to scare the President into taking a stand on civil rights. However, during the planning of the march, the President came out publicly in favor of civil rights. King turned the momentum of the march from the President to Congress, which at that time was considering a Civil Rights Bill that was not expected to pass. The March on Washington was an overwhelming success, and King made the speech of a lifetime. After Washington, however, the enthusiasm of the movement began to wane due to a lack of obvious hotspots. Diane Bevel, an activist married to SCLC member James Bevel, suggested massive demonstrations across Alabama under one program that would be called the Alabama Program. The Alabama Program organized protests in places such as Birmingham and supported voter registration drives. During this time, King was also informed of tensions developing in the Florida town of St. Augustine. St. Augustine was about to celebrate its quadri-centennial, and local black activists were outraged that the town had asked for federal money to support this celebration when it openly supported segregation. The black activists asked the SCLC to come in and support protest marches in their town. King agreed. Protest marches that began in St. Augustine were marred by violence from the local Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Negotiations were unsuccessful due to pressure from the KKK on local businessmen, but when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, it gave the businessmen the support they needed to integrate their businesses. Shortly after this success, King returned to Atlanta where he learned he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. This was a great honor for King and a boost for the movement. Upon returning to the States after accepting his award, King was informed about tensions in Selma, Alabama. Most cities in Alabama had conformed to the new statues under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, except for Selma. King went to Selma to lend his support to the cause shortly after a march that ended in terrible violence by the local police. King led two more marches that ended in a successful negotiation with town officials. However, the success was marred by the killing of a movement activist by members of the KKK. This murder had a great influence on Congress as they debated a voting rights bill, which would pass in the months following the Selma incident. At this point, King felt that the attentions of the SCLC and the movement should turn to the north. King visited many different northern cities, finally setting his sights on Chicago. Chicago had dealt with terrible segregation within their schools for many years and was at a point where demonstrations seemed to be the only option left for the black activists. King sent members of the SCLC to investigate the situation and to come up with a plan. James Bevel, a member of the SCLC, convinced King that the focus of the SCLC's attention should not be on school segregation, but instead on the poor living conditions of Chicago blacks. King agreed. However, before a plan could be cemented, James Meredith, the first black man to register at the University of Mississippi, was shot while on a walk across Mississippi to encourage blacks to vote in an upcoming primary. King and other activists decided to finish Meredith's walk for him. However, tensions between leaders marred the marches. One angry leader made a speech that included the phrase "black power", a phrase that quickly caught on. King was concerned about this phrase because of its implications of black separation and was afraid it would fuel hate and violence. However, King refused to make a stand against the phrase. Back in Chicago, the unfocused fight against the slums became more focused as the leaders began marches against local real estate firms that openly discriminated against blacks. However, the white reacted with violence, causing the city to be anxious to enter into negotiations in order to end the protests completely. These negotiations were nearly destroyed by an injunction initiated by the Chicago mayor, but an agreement eventually was reached. King then turned his attention to what he called the second phase of the civil rights movement, economic injustices. King wanted the government to take responsibility for the poor conditions in which many Americans lived. This fight included King making a stand against the war in Vietnam for many reasons, including the fact that the Johnson Administration was taking money from social programs to fund the war. King's stand on the war and his shift in the focus of the movement brought him criticism from other civil rights leaders, the government, and his own SCLC associates, but he refused to back down. King began planning a march on Washington that he hoped would end in legislative changes for the poor. While planning this march, King went to Memphis where protests were underway after a strike of black sanitation workers had led to tensions between the black community and the city officials. King participated in one march that ended in violence and was in town to lead another when he was shot outside his hotel room.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    At 800 pages, this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography is a little intimidating (although 167 of those pages are extensive notes and the index), but it is very well-written and readable. I did find the level of detail a little much at times as I got lost in the minutiae of every meeting, march, and lecture King was involved in. There is some information about King's childhood and college years, but the book really begins in 1955 with Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her seat and the resulting bus bo At 800 pages, this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography is a little intimidating (although 167 of those pages are extensive notes and the index), but it is very well-written and readable. I did find the level of detail a little much at times as I got lost in the minutiae of every meeting, march, and lecture King was involved in. There is some information about King's childhood and college years, but the book really begins in 1955 with Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her seat and the resulting bus boycott. This was the first time King, a new pastor in Montgomery, was pulled into a leadership position. He was just 26 years old. Nine years later he would win the Nobel Peace Prize, and four years after that he was assassinated. This book covers those thirteen years. I found Garrow's discussion of the FBI's persecution of King especially interesting. Everywhere King went, his room was tapped, and the FBI gathered hundreds of hours of sound tapes that they threatened him with and occasionally used against him. J. Edgar Hoover really hated him. I was surprised to learn that King dealt with long periods of debilitating depression and was frequently hospitalized for exhaustion. He also received hundreds of death threats and always felt that his life would be cut short by assassination. His focus on non-violent protest in this context is all the more remarkable. Of course, there is also information about King's frequent sexual encounters and his rather poor treatment of his wife. The book definitely presents a more comprehensive view of King, warts and all, than the "autobiography," and it does tarnish his image for me. Still, it's a good reminder that in spite of their flaws, imperfect individuals can have a tremendous positive impact on the world.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ann Olson

    This was a long book. And then I wrote a long review and it disappeared. To summarize- Great book. Chapters Selma and the Chicago Housing Movement were my favorite. His speech on 513 about being so tired and marches being so beautiful was especially powerful to me. "Black is as beautiful as any color." Reading about the FBI and wiretappings and all that was so intriguing and got me so frustrated at points- is this what our tax dollars should really be paying for? he wasn't a "communist threat". This was a long book. And then I wrote a long review and it disappeared. To summarize- Great book. Chapters Selma and the Chicago Housing Movement were my favorite. His speech on 513 about being so tired and marches being so beautiful was especially powerful to me. "Black is as beautiful as any color." Reading about the FBI and wiretappings and all that was so intriguing and got me so frustrated at points- is this what our tax dollars should really be paying for? he wasn't a "communist threat". where were they when he was about to get shot? I felt myself so anxious those last few pages, knowing it was coming and hoping it would happen differently. Overall, it really personified King and I so agree with the epilogue that it is important for us to see the wonderful, WONDERFUL things King did and worked so hard for right there next to his weaknesses and pains, so that we know we can do great things too. It's hard for me to separate the book/writing from the story/man sometimes. Parts of it were really dry, and I almost wondered if Garrow had his own ghost writers, because then other parts were really thrilling. And I realize that not every part of King's life or the SCLC or the movement could be so very exciting, but then did every minute fact have to be included? 800 is a lot of pages and while I appreciated getting to really understand another perspective on the movement, sometimes I would lose attention and mix up who was who. Good combination of personal and professional which I think is obviously so important in his life.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jason Furman

    A really detailed comprehensive history of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King Jr.--along with some biography of King interspersed. It is an immersive history that appears to include just about every meeting and phone call on these issues from the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) in 1955 to King's death in 1968. In some ways that serves a bigger purpose, removing the Civil Rights struggle from the temptation of Whig History to see it as a continuous march A really detailed comprehensive history of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King Jr.--along with some biography of King interspersed. It is an immersive history that appears to include just about every meeting and phone call on these issues from the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) in 1955 to King's death in 1968. In some ways that serves a bigger purpose, removing the Civil Rights struggle from the temptation of Whig History to see it as a continuous march forward for progress but instead situate it firmly in an understanding of how difficult it was to make decisions, how progress often stalled and reversed, and how uncertain the ultimate outcome appeared to people. As such, the book portrays King in a more human light, making numerous mistakes that make his triumphs--and that of his movement--even more impressive. What I missed was any larger context within King's life or the broader history of the time or anything resembling a narrative (although some of that was buried, like the evolution of King from one of the younger alternatives in the movement to becoming the establishment vis-a-vis the rise of black power and urban riots). Still, the accumulation of details in this case carries a certain amount of power--and the tremendous amount of research and oral history it is based on is clearly a service to history.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dani

    An extremely detailed biography of Martin Luther King. In some ways it was hard to follow - so many people involved in so many different places for so many different crusades, but worth the effort. However what speaks to you is how difficult MLK's situation was. He didn't pick to be the spokesperson for the movement, instead the movement picked him. It also failed him. Expecting more out of one person then could ever be possible. The internal feuding, constant financial problems, disagreements w An extremely detailed biography of Martin Luther King. In some ways it was hard to follow - so many people involved in so many different places for so many different crusades, but worth the effort. However what speaks to you is how difficult MLK's situation was. He didn't pick to be the spokesperson for the movement, instead the movement picked him. It also failed him. Expecting more out of one person then could ever be possible. The internal feuding, constant financial problems, disagreements with civil rights group and finally the magnitude of the problems needing change were totally overwhelming. Also, although change was happening, MLK could not see the progress that ultimately broke his spirit. Nevertheless, it was amazing to see how MLK and the entire movement learn to negotiate, compromise and work with all the various "personalities" to reach their goals. I am also glad the author did not shy away from MLK's faults, which were many, it shows that he was human and flawed as the rest of us. Excellent book. It is important that, as American's, we understand our history to ensure a future where everyone is treated with the respect and decency and has the opportunity of the American dream.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karen Masso

    This is a super-detailed book on the facinating life of a man who shaped a nation. I was surprised and encouraged by messiness of the story. The nation's injustices abounded. The civil rights movement was chock full of organizations who couldn't agree on things like strategy or use of money. There were ambitious people, turf issues and times when pride got in the way. MLK, Jr himself was a gifted, yet flawed man. That is where the hope lies, in the humanity of the players. The movement leaders wh This is a super-detailed book on the facinating life of a man who shaped a nation. I was surprised and encouraged by messiness of the story. The nation's injustices abounded. The civil rights movement was chock full of organizations who couldn't agree on things like strategy or use of money. There were ambitious people, turf issues and times when pride got in the way. MLK, Jr himself was a gifted, yet flawed man. That is where the hope lies, in the humanity of the players. The movement leaders where ordinary people. MLK, Jr was an ordinary man, but had an extra-ordinary God. That was encouraging to me. God makes his power perfect in weakness. At the same time, MLK, Jr. was uniquely gifted for this role. He taught and lived forgiveness and love for enemies. His eloquence, intelligence and ability to inspire was incredible. I am so grateful for his life and ministry.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Roxanne Russell

    This book is like a case study. A detailed account, moment by moment, of Martin Luther King Jr's involvement in the civil rights movement. When I say detailed, I mean detailed. Sentence by sentence, gesture by gesture, parliamentary motion by parliamentary motion, committee meeting by committee meeting, funding opportunity by funding opportunity. It must be an incredible textbook for courses on political activism. The history we all mostly know is here in addition to revelations I had not encount This book is like a case study. A detailed account, moment by moment, of Martin Luther King Jr's involvement in the civil rights movement. When I say detailed, I mean detailed. Sentence by sentence, gesture by gesture, parliamentary motion by parliamentary motion, committee meeting by committee meeting, funding opportunity by funding opportunity. It must be an incredible textbook for courses on political activism. The history we all mostly know is here in addition to revelations I had not encountered before but should have guessed. How very tired and depressed MLK was all the time. How rampant sexual abuse was throughout the SCLC. How easily manipulated Southern vitriol was to serve the better purpose.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Allen

    I listened to the audio book of this while reading "Parting the Waters" concurrently, so I have to make sure I don't confuse them. This book is a single volume history/biography of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, and by compressing the events into one book it necessarily sacrifices some detail. It does a good job of covering King's life, I think, but it gives only a cursory treatment to the rest of the SCLC, and even less to the other simultaneous organizations. If you want a o I listened to the audio book of this while reading "Parting the Waters" concurrently, so I have to make sure I don't confuse them. This book is a single volume history/biography of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, and by compressing the events into one book it necessarily sacrifices some detail. It does a good job of covering King's life, I think, but it gives only a cursory treatment to the rest of the SCLC, and even less to the other simultaneous organizations. If you want a one-volume life of King, this is a well-written option. If you want depth in the history of the mid-century civil rights movement, read Taylor Branch's trilogy.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Crystal Toller

    Very good book. I was born in 1965 so don't remember much but thoroughly enjoyed this book. Author discusses Montgomery Bus Boycott and formation of SCLC. There are many details of the campaigns pursued by SCLC and all the different figures involved in the organization. One thing I learned that I was not aware of was the staff issues and disorganization of some of the SCLC campaigns. Good biography of King and details his issues with SCLC, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and the FBI. Really enjoyed this Very good book. I was born in 1965 so don't remember much but thoroughly enjoyed this book. Author discusses Montgomery Bus Boycott and formation of SCLC. There are many details of the campaigns pursued by SCLC and all the different figures involved in the organization. One thing I learned that I was not aware of was the staff issues and disorganization of some of the SCLC campaigns. Good biography of King and details his issues with SCLC, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and the FBI. Really enjoyed this one.

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