The King Years
Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement
The King Years delivers riveting tales of everyday heroes who achieved miracles in constructive purpose and yet poignantly fell short. Here is the full sweep of an era that still reverberates in national politics. Its legacy remains unsettled; there are further lessons to be discovered before free citizens can once again move officials to address the most intractable, fearful dilemmas. This vital primer amply fulfills its author’s dedication: “For students of freedom and teachers of history.”
This compact volume brings to life eighteen pivotal dramas, beginning with the impromptu speech that turned an untested, twenty-six-year-old Martin Luther King forever into a public figure on the first night of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Five years later, minority students filled the jails in a 1960 sit-in movement, and, in 1961, the Freedom Riders seized national attention.
Branch interprets King’s famous speech at the 1963 March on Washington, then relives the Birmingham church bombing that challenged his dream of equal souls and equal votes. We see student leader Bob Moses mobilize college volunteers for Mississippi’s 1964 Freedom Summer, and a decade-long movement at last secures the first of several landmark laws for equal rights. At the same time, the presidential nominating conventions were drawn into sharp and unprecedented party realignment.
In “King, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Nobel Peace Prize,” Branch details the covert use of state power for a personal vendetta. “Crossroads in Selma” describes King’s ordeal to steer the battered citizen’s movement through hopes and threats from every level of government. “Crossroads in Vietnam” glimpses the ominous wartime split between King and President Lyndon Johnson. As backlash shadowed a Chicago campaign to expose northern prejudice, and the Black Power slogan of Stokely Carmichael captivated a world grown weary of nonviolent protest, King grew ever more isolated. As Branch writes, King “pushed downward into lonelier causes until he wound up among the sanitation workers of Memphis.” A requiem chapter leads to his fateful assassination.
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The King Years
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Beyond state and local laws, which mandated racial separation everywhere from schools and businesses to public libraries, custom enforced segregation in houses of worship.
Since 1982, it took me twenty-four years and 2,306 pages to compile a three-book narrative history, America in the King Years, and the same enthrallment has distilled that work now into this slender volume. A singular wonder continues. I was not born or raised to care about politics, let alone to write history. The landmark Brown decision of 1954 had caught me a white first-grader in segregated Atlanta,...see more
A community-wide assembly responds to oratory during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Within the precarious sanctuary of black churches, such mass meetings grew into a distinctive tool of solidarity for the civil rights movement.
— CHAPTER ONE —
The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Martin Luther King’s First Public Address, 1955
U.S. history has been marked and largely defined by political struggle over a “self-evident” truth asserted in the (1776) Declaration of Independence: that “all men are created equal.” From the American Revolution...see more
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