8/10. I have just finished the final volume of Taylor Branch’s monumental trilogy America in the King Years. A fitting end to an incredible effort – though to my mind the first volume remains the best. This work covers the more difficult years faced by King following the major successes of the Civil Rights movement culminating in the Selma March and the passage of the1965 Voting Rights Act (which occurs at the start of this volume). Venturing in to the more rocky waters of poverty and the Vietnam War, and caught between the increasing radicalisation and its corresponding conservative backlash, King stuck tenaciously to his non-violent principles only to be shot down outside his Memphis motel room on April 4 1968. It is perhaps for the very reason that these years were more troubled, with success more elusive and direction less sure, that it is this book which most increased for admiration for King as a man. Though contending with endless difficulties, self-doubt, persecution and perpetual internal dissension he struggled endlessly to retain his humility, his conscience and his commitment to nonviolent discipline. And it is his very humanity, evidenced, for example, by his incessant extra-marital affairs, that compels us to see in him some kind of latter-day saint.
At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-1968
JULY 27, 2007