Tuesday, September 17, 2013

King For A Summer

It has taken me all summer, about 15 weeks, but I have finished a three volume biography of Martin Luther King/history of the Civil Rights Movement.  What an amazing era.  The trilogy covers 1954 - 1968; the last volume, At Canaan's Edge, 1965-68. 

The Vietnam War leaves its mark all over the last volume.  It dominated those three years, from the date the first ground troops hit the beach until the night King was struck down by an assassin's bullet.  It split King from LBJ as it divided the country.  King saw peace in Vietnam, peace on Earth, as inextricably linked with the struggle for equal rights, and had to speak out.  Johnson saw King disloyally turning on him, the best, most powerful friend the Civil Rights Movement ever had. 

Despite this split, both men achieved much in those three years, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in August being the culmination of a concerted years long effort.  Both men then turned their focus to LBJ's War on Poverty though both faced major distractions, Johnson with escalation in Vietnam, King with internecine movement politics and an expansion into the north, especially Chicago.  King was to lead a second March on Washington in the Spring of '68; Johnson was pushing Congress to build his 'Great Society.'  Instead a summer of bloody chaos began with King being shot to death in Memphis where he had gone to support striking sanitation workers.  There was no second, peaceful march on Washington.  Instead there were riots in 110 cities the night King was killed, and many more throughout the summer, including the chaos in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention. 


  1. Living through that time the youth of the nation were alive, on pins and needles with actions and movements and creative vigor. I would say from my 7th grade math class the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when the old math teacher was called into the hall and returned red faced to tell us Kennedy had been killed, from then until my copy of "the Electric Kool-Aide Acid Test" was yellowing on my book shelf as Nixon waved to Ford as the helicopter lifted off the White House lawn, those were days of mixed feelings of fear and dread and excitement and joy. When I see the young people of today I don't despair they will not succeed and raise a family. But I despair they will not participate and be active in the political community. I don't see the interest from them, the hybrid vigor isn't there.

  2. You should read "Sometimes a Great Notion", Ken Kesey. It's about a family of independent lumberjacks who take advantage of a strike by locals at the big companies and set off to supply trees to feed all the local saw mills. It is Kesey's best book, Cookoo's Nest gets all the glory, but this is a book that explores family dynamics, labor relations, nature, rough and tumble living, it is really a great, not fluff either, top notch.

    1. I just discovered that a) Sometimes a Great Notion is a movie (with Paul Newman and Henry Fonda, no less) and b) it's available on Netflix. Figure I'll watch it this weekend. Have you seen it?

  3. Replies
    1. Like it? OK so I guess your at the tail end of the baby boomers, were at the leading edge. Not so different.

    2. But I MISSED all the cool stuff. It's not FAIR!

      But then, I missed that big old clusterfuck in Southeast Asia, too. So maybe it did even out ...

  4. You and Sarge are about a half-generation older than me, Darrell. Right where I always figured I should have been born. I think that's why I spend more time reading about that era than any other. Trying to live my dream, or something.