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Parting the Waters : America in the King Years 1954-63 Paperback – November 15, 1989

4.8 out of 5 stars 428 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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.

Review

David Levering Lewis The Philadelphia Inquirer Endlessly instructive and fascinating, thorough, stupendous. Now the source and standard in its field.

Robert C. Maynard
The Washington Post Book World In remarkable, meticulous detail, Branch provides us with the most complex and unsentimental version of King and his times yet produced.

Richard John Neuhaus
The Wall Street Journal A compelling story, masterfully told.

Jim Miller
Newsweek A masterpiece ... remarkably revealing.... The past, miraculously, seems to spring back to life.

Garry Wills
The New York Review of Books Already, in this chronicle, there is the material of Iliad after Iliad...There is no time in our history of which we can be more proud.

Robert Wilson
USA Today Superb history.
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Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (November 15, 1989)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 1088 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0671687425
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0671687427
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 3.11 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.13 x 2 x 9.25 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.8 out of 5 stars 428 ratings

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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.

Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5
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