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I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr Paperback – February 6, 2001

3.4 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Provocative preacher-teacher Michael Eric Dyson, known for his hip-hop-style delivery and encyclopedic intellectual powers, heroically tries to update and examine the true legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. for a glib Generation-X world. Calling I May Not Get There with You a work of "biocriticism," Dyson peels away the superficial image of King the man to reveal a complex human being whose work was far from finished or totally understood. "In the last thirty years we have trapped King in romantic images or frozen his legacy in worship," he writes. "I seek to rescue King from his admirers and deliver him from his foes." To that end, Dyson takes aim at neoconservatives like Shelby Steele, who spin King's multiracial dreams into a right-wing call to end affirmative action, and goes after black militants who thought King was "soft" and overlooked the power of his "black radical Christianity." He also criticizes the government's co-opting of King's philosophy in a holiday, as well as what he calls the King family's well-meaning, but destructive, attempts to protect King's legacy. Dyson forces us to accept King for all of his faults--including plagiarism and womanizing--but more importantly allows us to see a real human being who rose to the height of humanity. --Eugene Holley, Jr. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Reduced to sound bites and videoclips, Martin Luther King's image has become one of a starry-eyed dreamer and conformist, contends Dyson (Making Malcolm, etc.) in this attempt to reclaim the man he views as heroic and flawed from biographers, conservatives and cultural pundits who, Dyson maintains, have molded King's myth to fit their own political agendas. Readers looking for a linear, biographical text will not find it here. Rather, this is a bracing, at times willfully subjective, political and cultural analysis in which Dyson's signature style is just as surprising and revolutionary as what he presents as King's true message. As usual, this Baptist minister employs poetic, sometimes acrobatic gospel rhetoric, with multiple references to black youth music. One shock to the system is his point-by-point comparison of the similarities between King's and slain rapper Tupac (2pac) Shakur's philosophies. In addition to going on the offensive against the deliberate editing, misquoting and misinterpretations of King's speeches, Dyson tackles such difficult issues as the exclusion of women activists from civil rights organizing. He also deals adeptly with King's adulterous liaisons, his disillusionment with whites, the accusations of plagiarism against him and the troubles in King's marriage. His attempt to resurrect King as an evolutionary and revolutionary thinker who was not "down" with the status quo brings home that his stance on economic equity and the Vietnam War intensified the FBI surveillance that Dyson believed led to his death. In the end, Dyson successfully proves how vital King's true political views and personality are to struggling and frustrated black youth today. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (February 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068483037X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684830377
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #787,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Dyson has written an excellent antidote to the annual Martin Luther King Day speeches we hear every year, many of which make him out to be black Santa Claus. King has become a generic figure, an empty vessel into which all good wishes may be poured annually. We have forgotten that Dr. King was a threat to entrenched power in this country, and that his critique of American life was far-reaching and radical. Dyson does a good job of reminding readers of how much we've forgotten about this remarkable visionary prophet, and of how far we have to go to fulfill his vision. Having said that, Dyson did little if any primary research for this book; the sources are all familiar. Nor is he very careful in sorting them. The book is poorly edited. Sometimes Dyson is silly, unctious, pretentious or obtuse. There are whole chapters that could disappear without harming the book. He's an approachable writer with a likable voice and good ideas, but hits too many false notes and frequently trips over his own ego. I repeat, this book needed a real editor. It's worth reading, and much better than anything else Dyson has done; this project seemed to bring out his best work.
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Format: Hardcover
Dr. Dyson presents a side of history that truly exemplifies what he terms America's, "cultural amnesia." As we come to the end of celebrating another King Holiday, the sanitization of his [King] legacy is artfully critiqued by Dyson. Providing the reader an alternative lens, Dyson's propositions takes you on a journey which may--as it did me-- force you to confront deeply-rooted ideologies about King and the civil rights era. This lens guided my journey from admiring him solely as civil rights revolutionary to new paths of understanding including his beliefs about socialism, the Viet Nam War, and woman's rights. A must read for those seeking new insights about King's multi-faceted and intriguing public / private persona.
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Format: Hardcover
Dyson presents a full picture of MLK with all of his strengths and weaknesses. He writes of MLK's brilliant speaking ability, his unshakeable courage, and his willingness to fight for the oppressed, while at the same time, he truthfully acknowledges that King chased women and plagiarized. Dyson included a lot of lesser known facts about King and presented them in a way that brought King's foibles to light without attacking the underlying goodness of his character. For that, this book is a worthwhile read.
At the same time, however, Dyson is at times extremely hard to take seriously. He goes into a long, long comparison between King and Tupac Shakur, which is laughable at its best, insulting at its worst. How can one take seriously a comparison between a great civil rights leader who advocated nonviolence and universal love, with a hip hop artist who made a living off a culture that glorifies drugs and violence? What I especially don't understand is how he palliates any reason for the comparison (quoting Chris Rock's statement that King was "assassinated" while Tupac was "shot" and that "we still go to school on [Tupac's] birthday") and then compares them anyway.
Dyson also attacks those who he claims "misuse" King's teachings. At the same time, he himself misuses King's teachings to attack the conservative elements of the black church. He describes King's philanderings as a moral slip, then he attacks the black church for being against premarital sex. While Dyson is certainly entitled to his own views about premarital sex, it most definitely does not apply in a book about King, a man who never voiced support for anything of the kind.
The book is worth reading, but I'd probably suggest getting it from the library, just because it'll annoy you to own such a crazy and far-out interpretation of history. I'm hoping another King scholar will take up this same project, but that he/she will do so in a manner more befitting for one of our nation's great heroes.
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Format: Hardcover
Michael Eric Dyson intends to reveal the "real" Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he posits was a much more radical figure than he is currently remembered as being. To what extent he has succeeded, and to what extent his argument is colored by his own politics, I am really not competent to say. I do think that his characterization of Shelby Steele's The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race In America is inaccurate. One great strength of Dyson's approach is that he understands that communication occurs in a context. So often, I read biographers who examine their subjects' statements as if they were all the result of intensive self-scrutiny, delivered under oath. In fact, without necessarily being dishonest, communication is shaped by its purpose: persuasive people address the audience's concerns, rather than merely expressing their own. Dyson often analyzes King's statements with regard to the intended audience.

I found the book thought-provoking, but somewhat uneven; sometimes I was gripped, other material could only have improved the book by being dropped. Chapter Five, "Black Power", is somewhat vacuous. I was left with the feeling that Black nationalism is an idea that Dyson swears loyalty as proof that he is "authentic," but has little concrete meaning. The contention by Dyson's colleague that begins the chapter, and his response, bears out the suspicion that academics strive to prove the first Grand Duke of Fenwick's contention that yes can be turned into no if one just talks long enough. Personally, I have always thought that Plato, with his Ideals, was the one sitting in a cave looking at shadows, and this is all too abstract for me.
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