Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Lost audio reels, archived poetry drafts, personal interviews, and undeveloped photograph negatives spark my compulsive curiosity to tell stories about language that people have never heard. Uncovering what is hidden has led to a digital project dedicated to Martin Luther King’s first “I Have a Dream” speech, a museum exhibit based on never-before-seen images of an 1,800 person KKK march staged in opposition to a King appearance in 1966, and an intimate interview with Dorothy Cotton about her memories of Dr. King. Of my three books, I have written a recent biography, Langston Hughes: Critical Lives. Part of my current research details the poet’s collaborative relationship with jazz singer Nina Simone.
While uncovering a long-lost reel-to-reel audio tape of MLK’s first “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered in Rocky Mount, NC over nine months before the March of Washington, I wrote Origins of the Dream to trace King’s use of seven poems by Langston Hughes. I learned that King’s animating metaphor was as much poetic as it was prophetic. In fact, Hughes and King knew each other, exchanged letters, and even traveled together to Nigeria in 1960.
As such, King played a dangerous game of embracing the ideas of a poet who had been the subject of redbaiting and had his reputation tarnished in most circles after testifying on television before Joseph McCarthy in 1953. Hughes’s revolutionary verses were often intentionally concealed within King’s speeches from 1963-66 as King had to be most cautious about publically aligning himself with the left during the years he most hoped to win mainstream political support.
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Not scandalous like I Shared the Dream by Georgia Davis Powers, Cotton nonetheless enjoyed much greater access to King from 1963-68. While others may want to hear from the men who best knew King (such as Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Wyatt T. Walker, or Clarence Jones) the woman closest to him offers an immediate account of both the tensions inside the Southern Leadership Conference and throughout the nation during the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. Cotton’s life models the fortitude it took for a woman to rise to the role of leadership within King’s inner circle, as she became the Director of the Citizenship Education Program run by King’s organization.
Ever wonder how a kid from Atlanta became the leader of the 1960s civil rights movement? This book shows you through its rare photographs and compressed prose. Focusing on the crucial (and overlooked) years in King’s life (when he was training to be the preacher we now know), this book shows him shooting pool as much as studying. Remarkable interviews with his classmates, as well as a stunner with a white woman King seriously considered marrying, make this a real page-turner.
This surprisingly approachable book is written by a genuine expert in the field. Well before I reached the end, I knew every landmark trait of the preacher would be fully covered. Where other authors such as Michael K. Honey cover King’s relationship to the labor movement with true aplomb, Lischer takes me deeper into the language where I live. Here cadence, delivery, and poetry are explored as expressive modes that empower real listeners to act. This book reminds us that inspiration was required as much as strategy when it came to moving the nation closer to its ideals.
We think you will like Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, Breaking White Supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Social Gospel, and Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. if you like this list.
From Ron's list on to inspire the activist in you.
Though I was only nine years old, I still remember when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Years later, I found inspiration for my own activism in the great Eyes on the Prize documentary. So, as I became more involved with ACT UP, it was only natural that I looked to the stories of the civil rights movement to help ground and navigate my activism. Parting the Waters blew my mind. It went beyond the well-known stories of Dr. King to give me a fuller understanding of the breadth of the civil rights movement—the failures and compromises, as well as the famous successes. And while I found new heroes like Bayard Rustin, I gained an even greater appreciation for the bravery of the movement’s many foot soldiers.
From Paul's list on Martin Luther King, Jr..
This is volume two of Dorrien’s magisterial history of the “black social gospel,” from the mid-nineteenth century to the present; as the title indicates, King is the central figure in the book, but Dorrien places him in a long tradition and shows how and why King as a young man and seminary student wrote of himself, “I am a profound advocator of the social gospel.” This is the best place to start to have a comprehensive understanding of the multitude of intellectual influences that shaped King’s thinking and action.
From Carole's list on children’s books to fuel big dreams.