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Customer Review

HALL OF FAMEon December 12, 2000
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.
One finds a very detailed of the Kennedy involvement in the movement, first as a purely political ploy to help to win the black vote in the extremely tight race for the Presidency in 1960, and then as an administration struggling to do what was right in the face of enormous social, political, and even economic opposition. Here too we find an absorbing account of how the FBI attempted to infiltrate and influence the movement, with J. Edgar Hoover's adroit political savvy and deep-seated racism causing great difficulty and a number of tribulations for the civil rights cause. The names and places and events described here are legion, and one gets the sense that anyone who had a conscience was involved, and many of the names mentioned later went on to greater accomplishment and further noteworthy contribution in their public lives and careers.
This, then, is a stupendous first volume of a wonderful two-volume history of the civil rights movement in the United States, and covers the period from the late 1950s when the first rumblings of the movement were sounded until just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas in November of 1963. The second volume picks up the thread thereafter, extending out through the Johnson years and including aspects of the coalescence of the movement with the Vietnam anti-war protest. This is a wonderful book, and one I would consider essential reading for anyone with an interest in American history in the 20th century. I highly recommend both books, and I hope you appreciate reading them as much as I did. Enjoy!
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