Without the pressures of assigned readings and paper deadlines, I’ve re-discovered the freedom to read what the hell I please. I will admit that I’ve read more non-fiction than anything, but it’s all been interesting—I take that back, Buried in the Hidden Waters is a little dry). I even pulled a stack of books off my shelves, carried them to my bed and just read a chapter. Then I went to the library today and added a few more titles. Of course I’m looking at all these books thinking, I can’t read all this in a few weeks–but I can damn sure read a little bit of everything.
I have this story idea, but when I ran it across my mother she made it clear that I cannot write about it. Let me note that the subject involves Martin Luther King. I mean honestly, what do we really know about MLK besides the obvious? Well, I want to know the dark side. What’s on those FBI tapes (I actually downloaded the file)? Why did he marry Coretta? Who were these women that he slept with on occasion—or did he sleep around? Why can’t we talk about his mistresses or ask questions? Isn’t knowing his dark side what makes him realer? I don’t know. Maybe not.
I only own one book about Martin Luther King and it’s fiction. We’ll get to that in a second. The other texts currently in my possession are all borrowed from the library. Enough of the blah, blah, blah. Lemme post the books that attempt to give people different insights into King’s life:
Dreamer by Charles Johnson
Charles Johnson, the National Book Award-winning author of Middle Passage, offers a provocative and ambitious fictional account of the last two years of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. Narrated by Matthew Bishop, civil rights worker and loyal follower of Dr. King, Dreamer opens in the summer of 1966 during Dr. King’s first northern campaign against poverty and inequality. It is here that Bishop first introduces King to the mysterious Chaym Smith, a cynical Korean War veteran and former Buddhist monk whose startling resemblance to the civil rights leader earns him the position of official stand-in. The mysterious Smith appears at just the right moment: As King’s message is beginning to swell throughout the country, sinister FBI agents have begun to hover on the periphery of King’s entourage.
My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. by Coretta Scott King
When Coretta Scott King first wrote My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., America was just beginning to cope with the tragedy of his assassination. Her personal narrative helped us to hold on to his memory. Now addressing a new generation of readers, she reminds us of the Dr. King many of us have forgotten. Recounting the events of the Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. King shows us the true power of militant nonviolence – the most effective force for changing race relations in United States history. For the King family, though, the Civil Rights Movement was not just a matter of marches and speeches. They had their own special battles against racism to fight on the home front. Revealing for the first time in detail how she found the strength, courage and resources to face daily threats, Mrs. King speaks directly to the problems many families face today. Full of fresh insights about the past, present and future, this revised edition of Mrs. King’s inspiring memoir is both a narrative history of the movement that changed America and a personal account of one extraordinary woman’s life with one extraordinary man.
I Shared the Dream by Georgia Davis Powers
Her insights into the man don’t go much beyond what we already know — he was dedicated and was a brilliant orator. She notes, “I never saw him read from a written speech or even refer to notes when speaking.” Their affair was an open secret in his inner circle. She was in Memphis on the April evening in 1968 when he was assassinated. He had asked her to come. She was fixing her hair in front of the dresser mirror in her motel room when she heard the shot on the balcony. She ran out and saw him “lying in a pool of blood that was widening as I stood there staring.” Much of the world looked on that day in horror, and millions of Americans could say that they, like Ms. Powers, “shared the dream.” Her book could just as easily have been called “I Shared the Dreamer.” From the cover photograph of a fedora-topped King marching ahead of Ms. Powers to the scenes of furtive meetings in hotel rooms to her account of his assassination in Memphis, his fame and prominence overshadow her story. (I decided to excerpt the NY Times book review instead of an actual summary. Please read more . . .)
And the Walls Came Tumbling Down by Ralph David Abernathy
Abernathy’s autobiographical account of the birth and struggles of the civil rights movement is inspirational and deeply moving. With Martin Luther King Jr., his closest colleague, he helped organize the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and the 1965 march in Selma, Ala.; he and King went north to Chicago in 1966, where they battled Mayor Richard Daley and found racism as endemic and deep-rooted as in the South. He cradled King in his arms when the latter was assassinated in Memphis. Son of a stern, righth- ous farmer father, Abernathy became a Baptist pastor after fighting in WW II with a segregated platoon. In a voice at once down-to-earth and eloquent, he recounts protests, jailings and bombings in Birmingham, St. Augustine, Washington, Charleston and elsewhere. He defends his support of Reagan’s 1980 presidential bid, as well as his support, in the next two elections, for Jesse Jackson. Reading this engrossing, powerful memoir-as-history will force white Americans to confront the legacy of racism. Abernathy conveys a sense of how the civil rights movement discovered its tactics and direction in response to individual situations.
What Coretta had to say about Abernathy’s mentions of King’s infidelity: “So because Ralph [Abernathy] said it doesn’t make it true for me. I mean, you know, Ralph needed to sell his book.”
Happy reading, ya’ll!