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Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 [Kindle Edition]

Taylor Branch
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In volume one of his America in the King Years, Pulitzer Prize winner Taylor Branch gives a masterly account of the American civil rights movement.

Hailed as the most masterful story ever told of the American civil rights movement, Parting the Waters is destined to endure for generations.

Moving from the fiery political baptism of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the corridors of Camelot where the Kennedy brothers weighed demands for justice against the deceptions of J. Edgar Hoover, here is a vivid tapestry of America, torn and finally transformed by a revolutionary struggle unequaled since the Civil War.

Taylor Branch provides an unsurpassed portrait of King's rise to greatness and illuminates the stunning courage and private conflict, the deals, maneuvers, betrayals, and rivalries that determined history behind closed doors, at boycotts and sit-ins, on bloody freedom rides, and through siege and murder.

Epic in scope and impact, Branch's chronicle definitively captures one of the nation's most crucial passages.

Books In This Series (3 Books)
Complete Series

  • Editorial Reviews Review

    The first book of a formidable three-volume social history, Parting the Waters is more than just a biography of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the decade preceding his emergence as a national figure. Branch's thousand-page effort, which won the Pulitzer Prize as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction, profiles the key players and events that helped shape the American social landscape following World War II but before the civil-rights movement of the 1960s reached its climax. The author then goes a step further, endeavoring to explain how the struggles evolved as they did by probing the influences of the main actors while discussing the manner in which events conspired to create fertile ground for change.

    Timeline of a Trilogy

    Taylor Branch's America in the King Years series is both a biography of Martin Luther King and a history of his age. No timeline can do justice to its wide cast of characters and its intricate web of incident, but here are some of the highlights, which might be useful as a scorecard to the trilogy's nearly 3,000 pages.

    King The King Years
    Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63
    May: At age 25, King gives his first sermon as pastor-designate of Montgomery's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. 1954 May: French surrender to Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu. Unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board outlaws segregated public education.
    December: Rosa Parks is arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus, leading to the Montgomery bus boycott, which King is drafted to lead. 1955
    October: King spends his first night in jail, following his participation in an Atlanta sit-in. 1960 February: Four students attempting to integrate a Greensboro, North Carolina, lunch counter spark a national sit-in movement.
    April: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee is founded.
    November: Election of President John F. Kennedy
    May: The Freedom Rides begin, drawing violent responses as they challenge segregation throughout the South. King supports the riders during an overnight siege in Montgomery. 1961 July: SNCC worker Bob Moses arrives for his first summer of voter registration in rural Mississippi.
    August: East German soldiers seal off West Berlin behind the Berlin Wall.
    March: J. Edgar Hoover authorizes the bugging of Stanley Levinson, King's closest white advisor. 1962 September: James Meredith integrates the University of Mississippi under massive federal protection.
    April: King, imprisoned for demonstrating in Birmingham, writes the "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
    May: Images of police violence against marching children in Birmingham rivet the country.
    August: King delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech before hundreds of thousands at the March on Washington.
    September: The Ku Klux Klan bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church kills four young girls.
    1963 June: Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers assassinated.
    November: President Kennedy assassinated.
    Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65
    November: Lyndon Johnson, in his first speech before Congress as president, promises to push through Kennedy's proposed civil rights bill.
    March: King meets Malcolm X for the only time during Senate filibuster of civil rights legislation.
    June: King joins St. Augustine, Florida, movement after months of protests and Klan violence.
    October: King awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and campaigns for Johnson's reelection.
    November: Hoover calls King "the most notorious liar in the country" and the FBI sends King an anonymous "suicide package" containing scandalous surveillance tapes.
    1964 January: Johnson announces his "War on Poverty."
    March: Malcolm X leaves the Nation of Islam following conflict with its leader, Elijah Muhammad.
    June: Hundreds of volunteers arrive in the South for SNCC's Freedom Summer, three of whom are soon murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
    July: Johnson signs Civil Rights Act outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
    August: Congress passes Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing military force in Vietnam. Democratic National Convention rebuffs the request by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to be seated in favor of all-white state delegation.
    November: Johnson wins a landslide reelection.
    January: King's first visit to Selma, Alabama, where mass meetings and demonstrations will build through the winter. 1965 February: Malcolm X speaks in Selma in support of movement, three weeks before his assassination in New York by Nation of Islam members.
    At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68
    March: Voting rights movement in Selma peaks with "Bloody Sunday" police attacks and, two weeks later, a successful march of thousands to Montgomery.
    August: King rebuffed by Los Angeles officials when he attempts to advocate reforms after the Watts riots.
    March: First U.S. combat troops arrive in South Vietnam. Johnson's "We Shall Overcome" speech makes his most direct embrace of the civil rights movement.
    May: Vietnam "teach-in" protest in Berkeley attracts 30,000.
    June: Influential federal Moynihan Report describes the "pathologies" of black family structure.
    August: Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act. Five days later, the Watts riots begin in Los Angeles.
    January: King moves his family into a Chicago slum apartment to mark his first sustained movement in a Northern city.
    June: King and Stokely Carmichael continue James Meredith's March Against Fear after Meredith is shot and wounded. Carmichael gives his first "black power" speech.
    July: King's marches for fair housing in Chicago face bombs, bricks, and "white power" shouts.
    1966 February: Operation Rolling Thunder, massive U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, begins.
    May: Stokely Carmichael wins the presidency of SNCC and quickly turns the organization away from nonviolence.
    October: National Organization for Women founded, modeled after black civil rights groups.
    April: King's speech against the Vietnam War at New York's Riverside Church raises a storm of criticism
    December: King announces plans for major campaign against poverty in Washington, D.C., for 1968.
    1967 May: Huey Newton leads Black Panthers in armed demonstration in California state assembly.
    June: Johnson nominates former NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court.
    July: Riots in Newark and Detroit.
    October: Massive mobilization against the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C.
    March: King joins strike of Memphis sanitation workers.
    April: King gives his "Mountaintop" speech in Memphis. A day later, he is assassinated at the Lorraine Motel.
    1968 January: In Tet Offensive, Communist guerillas stage a surprise coordinated attack across South Vietnam.
    March: Johnson cites divisions in the country over the war for his decision not to seek reelection in 1968.

    From Publishers Weekly

    Pacifist theologian Reinhold Niebuhr influenced Martin Luther King Jr. more deeply than did Gandhi, according to Branch, whose 880-page chronicle shows the civil rights leader taking Billy Graham's evangelist crusades as his model for organizing mass meetings to attack segregation. Epic in scope, often startling in its judgments and revelations, this gripping narrative mingles biography and history as it moves from the founding in 1867 of the First Baptist Church in Alabama, where King's movement took hold, to John Kennedy's assassination. Branch, journalist and coauthor of Second Wind , provides disturbing glimpses of John Kennedy wavering over integration while manipulating King, and of Robert Kennedy, who authorized FBI wiretaps on King's home and offices. Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin and other leaders are also here, though King holds center-stage for most of the narrative. This stirring, vivid tapestry is the first volume in Branch's America in the King Years. First serial to Washington Post Magazine; BOMC segmented main selection.
    Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

    Product Details

    Customer Reviews

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    Most Helpful Customer Reviews
    81 of 88 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars An Essential Part of Any Library March 29, 2000
    This is a book that truly merits the label "must reading." It played a role in changing my own thinking on politics and history when I first read it in the early 1990's. During my "College Republican" days, my view of Martin Luther King, Jr. was not especially favorable, and I was almost totally ignorant of the history and background of the civil rights movement. But after reading Taylor Branch's book, I could no longer shut my eyes to the hard truths to which he bears brilliant witness.
    Martin Luther King is the central figure in Branch's narrative, but the book is much more than a biography, as befits its subtitle, "America in the King Years, 1954-63." For example, Branch begins his account with the stormy tenure of Vernon Johns as minister at Montgomery, AL's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church--at which church Johns was replaced by a young man still often known as "Mike" King. By broadening his account beyond King's own experiences, Branch accurately conveys how the civil rights movement was far more than just the activities of a few well-known leaders.
    Branch's research would do credit to any professional historian. He conducted hundreds of interviews and worked with a vast amount of primary source material. His writing is compelling, repeatedly capturing the intensity of both public and private events. Even though the hardcover edition is over 900 pages, when I first read it I found it incredibly hard to put aside.
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    30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
    Presenting an authentic and comprehensive picture of the mammoth civil rights movement in the United States in the post WWII era is a daunting task, yet noted author and journalist Taylor Branch has succeeded masterfully with this, the first of a two-volume history of the struggle of blacks in America to find justice, equality and parity with the mainstream white society. Tracing the rise of the singular leader personified in the young Rev. Martin Luther King, Branch sets the stage for a wide range of events, personalities, and public issues. This is truly a wonderful read, fascinating, entertaining, and endlessly detailed in its description of people and events, and quite insightful in its chronicling of the fortune of those social forces that created, sustained, and accomplished the single most momentous feat of meaningful social action in our nation's contemporary history.
    His range of subjects is necessarily wide and deep, and we find coverage of every aspect of the tumultuous struggle beginning in the deep South, and gradually working its way north and west until most of the urban northeast also surrendered to the battle cry for civil rights and justice under the law. In many respects this borders on being a biography of Martin Luther King and his times, yet Branch so extends his coverage of the eddies and currents of the movement itself that it appears to be by far the most comprehensive and fair-minded treatment of the civil rights movement published to date. Whether covering the issue of Martin Luther King's own personal life, his internal philosophical concerns, or his appetite for young white women, the reader is engaged with every element of this and a thousand other personalities, issues, and events that carved out the history of our country for almost twenty years.
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    30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and moving June 30, 2000
    I was bored by historical books. That was until I opened the first page of Taylor Branch's book. His ability to mix history, narrative and personal descriptions of the people involded in the civil rights movement made my reading extremely enjoyable, informative and captivating. At times I wad moved to tears and almost no book has had that effect on me so far. The book does not only focus on M.L. King himself and all the other characters involved made me feel part of a broader struggle for more humanity. It has been months since I read the book and my first impressions have remained as strong, I would advice it to anyone who wants to have fun, to be moved and learn at the same time. The civil rights movement is an essential part of history, you should read the book for your personal development, that is, development of your mind and of your heart. Just wonderful!
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    18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars King: Spiritual leader October 3, 2005
    In reading this book, you will believe in the power of prayer, bear witness to miracles, marvel at overlapping destinies, and give thanks for accidents of history. You also will be humbled and inspired by the spiritual life and public work of Dr. Martin Luther King.

    Author Branch presents an enormous cast of characters and complicated interweaving storylines to tell the amazing story of the civil rights movement at a time when the country was struggling to integrate the moral momentum of WWII into a domestic reconciliation on race. By making King the main road through which all things pass, the huge story stays on track and remains a story of human, instead of political, dimensions.

    King was a dreamer and a pragmatic strategist. But many of his most illuminating moments came from unexpected or desperate places such as his first movement speech in the early days of the Montgomery bus boycott or his "Letter From a Birmingham Jail." Branch shows how the movement drew more power from epiphanies and spontaneous acts than it did from planned insurrections. That passion of the human spirit to right the world, as exemplified by Dr. King, frames this story.

    Even though we all know the history of the boycotts, the sit-ins, the marches, the voter registration drives, and the Freedom Rides, Branch writes so forcefully and knowledgeably about the people, that it comes alive all over again. The outcome seems uncertain despite us knowing the ending which is what makes the stories in this book living history.
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    Most Recent Customer Reviews
    5.0 out of 5 stars A Framework to Understand Contemporary Racial Tension
    Taylor Branch’s powerful history of the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement provides a timely frame of reference in which to place the recent... Read more
    Published 9 days ago by Robb Hansen
    5.0 out of 5 stars This is a highly good read, Taylor Branch has a way of letting ...
    This is a highly good read, Taylor Branch has a way of letting you live in the present, while drawing you in the past. Read more
    Published 10 days ago by Aunteelder
    4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
    Item as described. Thank you!
    Published 1 month ago by Keith
    5.0 out of 5 stars This history so expansive. Some of the descriptions of ...
    This history so expansive. Some of the descriptions of the violence perpetrated on the civil rights heroes -- vile behavior, really -- are hard to read. Read more
    Published 1 month ago by Marty Jacobs
    5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
    As good as the book.
    Published 1 month ago by Del-B-Ra
    5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
    It is a long book, and I am still working on it, but it is so detailed and interesting!
    Published 2 months ago by Janelle M. Worley
    5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
    "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963" is Taylor Branch's magnificent first volume of a three-volume biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Read more
    Published 3 months ago by Mike Powers
    4.0 out of 5 stars Very long, Very detailed. Overall excellent coverage of America in the...
    Very long winded and in depth. Does a wonderful job up till 63 and just ends. I do not understand why it does not proceed through the final civil rights acts and assassination of... Read more
    Published 3 months ago by KB
    5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
    great seller!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Published 3 months ago by RICARDO
    5.0 out of 5 stars Rising to greatness. Thank you MLK Jr. Great book.
    Fabulous book. Wish I had marched with MLK Jr and the people in Selma.
    Published 3 months ago by Catherine B Friederich
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    More About the Author

    Taylor Branch is the bestselling author of Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 (which won the Pulitzer Prize), Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65, and At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968. The author of two other nonfiction books and a novel, Branch is a former staff member of The Washington Monthly, Harper's, and Esquire. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.


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