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April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Death and How It Changed America Hardcover – March 31, 2008
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Death And How It Changed, by Dyson, Michael Eric
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In any case, Dyson offers an interesting take on Martin Luther King's death and the impact that it had on America, both its positive and negative elements. Dyson comments on King's character, powerful oratory, a brief family history as well as the numerous causes he stood behind. He event hints at a possible government conspiracy as the cause of King's death stating several incidents where the president of the time refused to protect him or even warn King of impending danger at death threats being called in for him. In addition, Dyson concentrates on statistics - both from the late 60's when King was assassinated as well as today - to represent the changes that America has produced since King's death.
I was blown away at the chapter on Jesse Jackson, however, though confused on Dyson's standpoint in regards to it. Dyson informs the reader that directly following King's murder, he instructed others not to speak to the media. After telling all of them that he wasn't feeling well, Abernathy (one of King's right-hand men) spotted Jackson speaking with the media himself, in his desperate attempt to fill King's shoes, claiming that he was the very last person that King ever spoke to - a blatant lie, as Abernathy knew that King had spoken to another associate before taking his last breath. Dyson also draws attention to the blood on Jackson's shirt and that he was never on the balcony during the actual shooting, but rather directly after. Dyson suggests Jackson having dipped his hands in King's blood and wiping them on his shirt in a sort of biblical fashion as Christian's are to drink Christ's blood during communion in honor and remembrance. I was intrigued with all of this new information - and curious as to the authors thoughts, but he remains fluctuant on the subject and I felt ultimately unsatisfied with the chapter.
In keeping with the times, not only does Dyson reference Jackson, King's initial predecessor, he also has a chapter dedicated to Barack Obama, of whom he calls the "Black Kennedy." Not only does he mention the great feat the country has reached in having a black man for nominee, but he also focuses on the changes that Obama is promoting for his current political campaign and how he shares many of King's visions.
Finally, Dyson finishes up with an incredibly odd mock-interview with himself posing as Martin Luther King and answering questions regarding America today. While we, as a people, can certainly wonder what King would think of both our progress and backsliding over the years since he was alive, I have a hard time with thinking this "interview" to be anything but strange.
With all of the additional information and people who appear in this book, there were several times I had to remind myself that the focus of this book was on the death of Martin Luther King and the changes that it brought about. The reader can become easily lost in the extra's as Dyson ignites several tangents, straying from the main point of the book.
In retrospect, kind of scattered layout, but a pretty interesting read.
Fifteen years after this, I remember asking my great-aunt why there were no blacks who were members of her country club. "They can't afford it, honey," was her well-meaning but incredibly myopic response.
It is hard enough as a white person to really, genuinely, empathize with the experience of African Americans. We can imagine, yes; but the act of imagining is itself a kind of comfortable exercise that can lead us to conclude that we "understand."
In truth, we don't. And maybe we never will. Maybe all we can do is just shut up once in a while and listen. This book can help.
In the room that looks out onto the balcony where Dr. King was murdered, my favorite gospel hymn plays softly; it was Dr. King's last request that the musician for the April 4th's evening service play "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." The haunting pathos and sense of security that this hymn gives is enough to make this atheist hope that, somehow, Dr. King died knowing that his death would be the final, crowning act of this great American story.
If we look at life and history through the prism of King's life, and the pasing of years to the present day, we gain a greater appreciation of just what is at stake in American life today. Moreover, we sense the tremendous barriers that still remain, despite all the platitudinous protestations of the neo-conservatives and right wingers to the contrary.
The value of a book like this is it makes us stop and listen. Another reviewer has gently attacked the artifice of an interview with Dr. King from today's perspective; frankly I think that, after studying King as much as he has, Mr. Dyson has every right to channel a conversation with the man himself. but I do not think that anyone can argue with Dr. King's last, albeit imaginary, statement.
I love Oprah too.