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Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year Paperback – January 12, 2016
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Winner of the Jessie Redmon Fauset Book Award "A reverential look at Martin Luther King Jr.'s last agonizing year that does not disguise the flaws of a saint.... [A] poignant account of King's final struggle. An eloquent, emotional journey from darkness to light."―Kirkus Reviews
"Tavis Smiley has captured not only the spirit of the movement, but the Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his last days. We didn't realize it but he knew he was on his way to Jerusalem, and as much as we tried to deter him, he fought back."―Andrew Young, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and former Mayor of Atlanta
"Death of a King is a fitting climax to a noble saga. It is here adequately told and placed before history."―Reverend Gardner C. Taylor
A "microscopically focused biography, which trades in both weighty events and the everyday joys of family life."―Time
"Tavis Smiley has brought forward in his book Death of a King an accounting of the last year Dr. King was physically with us -- an accounting very much needed. Tavis rightfully emphasizes the error it is to continually emphasize his martyrdom mostly with no mention of the great work he did. Tavis's book helps people focus on his work and the spirit with which he worked."―Dorothy F. Cotton, Education Director for SCLC, the organization led by Dr. King
"Tavis Smiley illuminates the passion and struggle of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last 365 days."―AARP's Editors' Picks
"One of the most important political voices of his generation."―The Philadelphia Inquirer
"A dramatic retelling of King's final and pivotal year."―Leonard Gill, Memphis Flyer
"Death of a King paints a portrait of a leader and visionary in a revealing and dramatic chronicle of the 12 months leading up to King's assassination."―Nicole M. Robertson, The Oakland Press
"Smiley also serves as the reader for the audio, a factor that gives another level of personalization to the already gripping narrative. In the introduction, Smiley remembers how when he was growing up, he recited the speeches of Dr. King in order to "find his own voice." And what a voice it is. Smiley's narration is smooth, measured, and backed by a rich, authoritative tone that truly adds another level of sentimentality and familiarity to the audio. Recommended for history buffs and those interested particularly in Dr. King."―Brian Odom, Booklist
"A must-read.... ... King feels like a real person instead of a larger-than-life caricature."―Kelvin Wade, Daily Republic
About the Author
Tavis Smiley is the host and managing editor of Tavis Smiley on PBS and The Tavis Smiley Show from Public Radio International (PRI). He is the author of eighteen books, including My Journey with Maya. Smiley lives in Los Angeles.
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This book describes the split between a number of black civil rights leaders over which direction the movement(s) should go in. Focus on race? Povety? Anti-war? All three? Violence vs. non-violence? A few of Dr. King's closest advisers disagreed with his public break from President Johnson's policies on the war: "why alienate the President who helped push the civil rights act and the voting rights act through Congress a few years earlier?"
Dr. King's schedule over his final year is partly driven by a sense of urgency of his cause and the occasional feeling of impending doom. Mr. Smiley writes a few times of how Dr. King considered the potential of his own early demise to his colleagues. Dr. King is constantly on the move, speaking at different events, meeting with leaders, talking to groups of 6 or 24 or 50 people in burnt out cities, and trying to keep the civil rights movement united and on a course of non-violence. He goes back and forth through despair and needs to speak on the pulpit to lift himself out of it. His concerns about the lack of jobs, poor education, awful working conditions for those that have jobs, poor health care and substandard housing is alarming because all of this issues still exist in the inner cities almost 50 years later. Particular attention near the end of the book is paid to the sanitation workers' problems in Memphis and the pull that the city had on Dr. King.
Mr. Smiley is a writer, radio & television personality who writes his own introduction to this book. He talks about how he has devoured books on Dr. King and felt the need to tell the story of Dr. King's last year and how he was viewed as a pariah by many of those that used to support him. The adoration is clear. Mr. Smiley announces that he will refer to Dr. King throughout the book as "Doc," as most of his close friends did. The book is heavy on quotes from Dr. King's speeches by does not use quotations from Dr. King's notes or letters, not from his closest advisers. Mr. Smiley does use them as sources though, but he does not directly site them because (I believe) he wants to keep the book fast paced. From a historical perspective, that bothers me a little. It is why I consider this book 3.5 stars rather than 4.5 stars. Despite his adoration, Mr. Smiley does not gloss over Dr. King's affairs nor his self-plagiarism in his final book.
Mr Smiley is to be congratulated for telling this story which portrays Dr King as a real person warts and all.