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Pillar of Fire : America in the King Years 1963-65 Paperback – January 20, 1999
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Pillar of Fire is the second volume of Taylor Branch's magisterial three-volume history of America during the life of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Branch's thesis, as he explains in the introduction, is that "King's life is the best and most important metaphor for American history in the watershed postwar years," but this is not just a biography. Instead it is a work of history, with King at its focal point. The tumultuous years that Branch covers saw the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the beginnings of American disillusionment with the war in Vietnam, and, of course, the civil rights movement that King led, a movement that transformed America as the nation finally tried to live up to the ideals on which it was founded.
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.
From Library Journal
Following Parting the Waters (LJ 1/89), his magnificent Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Civil Rights years 1954-63, Branch's second volume of a projected trilogy takes the story through the heady years that saw the Southern Freedom Rides, Congressional battles over the Civil Rights acts, the March on Washington, the Birmingham bombing, and the assassinations of John Kennedy, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. Once more, Branch's national epic is knit together by the charismatic figure of Dr. King. We only think we know this story, which in Branch's masterly version seems freshened and newly impressive, told without cant or cliche.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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King’s commitment to nonviolence in the face of overwhelming provocation is stunning. Branch often embeds events in an avalanche of detail about day-to-day goings-on that can be somewhat deadening but serves to make the point that there was no inevitability to the ultimate triumph of King. Throughout his career, he was beset by criticism, rivalry, and divisiveness from both within and without his ranks. The forces arrayed against him were formidable. This book is one more argument toward solidifying J. Edgar Hoover’s status as one of the great villains of modern American history, with his underhanded and unconstitutional persecution and surveillance of King, even, at one point, sinking to the depths of having evidence of his infidelities sent to him along with a message urging him to commit suicide. Lyndon Johnson emerges as a pivotal figure, ever mindful of political reality but favorable toward black suffrage in a way that Kennedy wasn’t.
Writing in the early days of the Trump administration, I am reminded by this book that the most worrisome terrorists are the homegrown variety and encouraged by the precedent of citizens standing up to corrupt power and prevailing.
Taylor Branch does an excellent job of showing what the movement was like as well as the bitter times it lived through. MLK was a man, no question about it, but what a brilliant, courageous man he was! The movement featured a number of heroes and heroines but MLK stands out as uniquely qualified to speak for all the people, black and white
Now read Slavery by Another Name and a book by Lillian Smith, Killers of the Dream.