The best Civil Rights Movement books

15 authors have picked their favorite books about the Civil Rights Movement and why they recommend each book.

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Crusade for Justice

By Ida B. Wells,

Book cover of Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells

You may have heard of Ida B. Wells, the fierce anti-lynching campaigner of the late-1800s and early 1900s, who used journalism to expose these crimes when many larger papers ignored them. Wells won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 2020 and was well-known in her day. But Crusade for Justice, her engaging autobiography, detailing conversations and the decisions behind her uncommon bravery, was only published in 1970, almost forty years after she died. And it was only re-released in 2020. Her story, and its recovery, is a reminder of how easily the most significant historical figures can be forgotten.

Crusade for Justice

By Ida B. Wells,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Crusade for Justice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"She fought a lonely and almost single-handed fight, with the single-mindedness of a crusader, long before men or women of any race entered the arena; and the measure of success she achieved goes far beyond the credit she has been given in the history of the country."-Alfreda M. Duster

Ida B. Wells is an American icon of truth telling. Born to slaves, she was a pioneer of investigative journalism, a crusader against lynching, and a tireless advocate for suffrage, both for women and for African Americans. She co-founded the NAACP, started the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago, and was a…


Who am I?

There's magic in a book that opens a window to the lives of ordinary people who lived in a time and place very different from our own. That’s why I enjoy exploring these stories. The narratives of the famous are often polished to the point that all the odd edges of a delicious pea soup or a long trip in uncomfortable boots are worn away. But I love these little details: how certain boarding house rules meant women had no place to stay when Jack the Ripper was prowling, or how a journal might consist of rag paper with a hand-stitched binding. They show us a distant era, but also reinforce our common humanity.


I wrote...

Sensational: The Hidden History of America's "Girl Stunt Reporters"

By Kim Todd,

Book cover of Sensational: The Hidden History of America's "Girl Stunt Reporters"

What is my book about?

Sensational is a vivid history that brings to light the “girl stunt reporters” of the Gilded Age who went undercover to expose corruption and abuse in America—pioneers whose influence continues to be felt today.


In the waning years of the nineteenth century, women journalists across the United States risked reputation and safety to expose the hazardous conditions under which many Americans lived and worked. In various disguises, they stole into sewing factories to report on child labor, fainted in the streets to test public hospital treatment, posed as lobbyists to reveal corrupt politicians. Inventive writers whose in-depth narratives made headlines for weeks at a stretch, these “girl stunt reporters” changed laws, helped launch a labor movement, championed women’s rights, and redefined journalism for the modern age.

Dividing Lines

By J. Mills Thornton,

Book cover of Dividing Lines: Municipal Politics and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma

Black southern mass action against segregation commenced in Montgomery, AL with the 1955-56 bus boycott that catapulted Martin Luther King, Jr., to national fame, then finally broke through U. S. presidential ambivalence with the 1963 protests in Birmingham that were met with heavily-photographed police violence, and culminated with the 1965 Selma marches that led to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. These three Alabama cities represent the cornerstones of that dramatic 1955-1965 decade, and Thornton’s magisterial account of those movements’ local roots make it perhaps the most interpretively significant work of civil rights history ever written. A very close second is Adam Fairclough’s Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972.

Dividing Lines

By J. Mills Thornton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dividing Lines as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With this bold offering from two decades of research, J. Mills Thornton III presents the story of the civil rights movement from the perspective of community-municipal history at the grassroots level. Thornton demonstrates that the movement had powerful local sources in its three birth cities - Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma. There, the arcane mechanisms of state and city governance and the missteps of municipal politicians and civic leaders - independent of emerging national trends in racial mores - led to the great swell of energy for change that became the civil rights movement.


Who am I?

I’m a legal historian, best-known for Bearing the Cross, my Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., but I’ve also written the standard history of Roe v. Wade (Liberty and Sexuality) as well as books on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Protest at Selma) and the FBI’s pursuit of Dr. King (The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.). I’ve been a top advisor for both the landmark PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize and for the Library of America’s two-volume Reporting Civil Rights. More recently I’ve been featured in both the Academy Award-shortlisted documentary film MLK/FBI (Hulu) and in the Emmy Award-nominated documentary series Who Killed Malcolm X? (Netflix)


I wrote...

Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama

By David J. Garrow,

Book cover of Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama

What is my book about?

When Barack Obama won his first presidential primary in early 2008, I knew next to nothing about him and began reading his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father. Frustrated by Obama’s use of pseudonyms for most of his acquaintances, and by the incurious profiles of him that journalistic outlets were offering up, I began what would become nine years of work researching Obama’s life from his childhood in Hawaii through his formative political years in Illinois politics and his break-through election to the U. S. Senate in 2004. I conducted more than 1,000 personal interviews for Rising Star, and Obama himself read most of the book in typescript in tandem with over eight hours of White House conversations between the two of us about it. Named by the Washington Post as one of the Ten Best Books of 2017, Rising Star made both the New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists, and will likely remain the definitive account of Obama’s pre-presidential life.

Ida

By Paula J. Giddings,

Book cover of Ida: A Sword Among Lions

To understand American race relations today, the history of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era is a vital starting point. In the wake of the Reconstruction, legalized segregation formalized institutional racism. With no federal lynch law, many states and municipalities refused to prosecute lynchings, striving instead to perpetuate myths of lynching as the only appropriate response to naturally lascivious Black men who desired inherently pure and virtuous white women. This exceptional biography traces the fascinating life of journalist and women’s suffrage advocate Ida Wells, who fearlessly fought against racism, segregation, and, especially, lynching. She was a leader in progressive era reform, despite the discrimination she endured even from many progressives due to her sex and her race.

Ida

By Paula J. Giddings,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ida as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pulitzer Prize Board citation to Ida B. Wells, as an early pioneer of investigative journalism and civil rights icon

From a thinker who Maya Angelou has praised for shining “a brilliant light on the lives of women left in the shadow of history,” comes the definitive biography of Ida B. Wells—crusading journalist and pioneer in the fight for women’s suffrage and against segregation and lynchings

Ida B. Wells was born into slavery and raised in the Victorian age yet emerged—through her fierce political battles and progressive thinking—as the first “modern” black women in the nation’s history.

Wells began her activist…


Who am I?

I study the Gilded Age and Progressive Era because it has so many practical applications for the present.  As we face our own Gilded Age of enormous technological achievements paired with ongoing problems stemming from what Bob La Follette called “the encroachment of the powerful few upon the rights of the many,” why reinvent the wheel?  What worked for progressive reformers in their struggles to create a more equitable and just society?  What didn’t work, and why? To help answer those questions I wrote Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer and Belle La Follette: Progressive Era Reformer, and co-edited A Companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.


I wrote...

Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer

By Nancy C. Unger,

Book cover of Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer

What is my book about?

The endlessly fascinating Robert La Follette (1855-1925) represented Wisconsin in the House of Representatives, as governor, and, for twenty-one years, in the U.S. Senate.  As the nation rapidly transformed into an urban-industrial giant, he tackled some of its biggest problems, including political corruption, environmental devastation, and worker exploitation.  “The supreme issue, involving all the others,” he declared, “is the encroachment of the powerful few upon the rights of the many.” La Follette was a leader in the fight to more equitably redistribute the nation’s wealth and power.

La Follette’s wife, Belle Case La Follette, was a leader in the fight for women’s suffrage and racial equality as well as world peace. Together they created a remarkably close family, generating a political dynasty.

Race Rebels

By Robin D. G. Kelley,

Book cover of Race Rebels : Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class

This book is a brilliant collection of essays highlighting “race rebels,” where Kelley looks outside of traditional politics and organized movements to find Black resistance to forces such as white supremacy, labor exploitation, and war. Kelley focuses in on the everyday lives of working-class Black men and women, highlighting a “hidden transcript” of expression and resistance in things like music, language, dance, and choice of dress.  He elevates the political potential found in these cultural elements, urging historians to see these “style politics” in the social and economic contexts which give rise to them, for they are powerful and worthy of our attention.

Race Rebels

By Robin D. G. Kelley,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Race Rebels as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Many black strategies of daily resistance have been obscured--until now. Race rebels, argues Kelley, have created strategies of resistance, movements, and entire subcultures. Here, for the first time, everyday race rebels are given the historiographical attention they deserve, from the Jim Crow era to the present.


Who am I?

How do ideas about gender, sexuality, and race show up in our political culture? And how do people’s political needs play a role in constructions of race, sex, and gender? I’ve been researching the intersections between ideas about gender, sexuality, and political culture in the modern United States for almost twenty years. And I think history can show us the ways ideas about sex, gender, and race suffuse political culture, revealing hierarchies of power that often discriminate, alienate, and silence. By reading books like the ones on this list we can understand how this power works, we can recognize it more clearly in the present, and we can find ways to dismantle it.


I wrote...

When the World Broke in Two: The Roaring Twenties and the Dawn of America's Culture Wars

By Erica J. Ryan,

Book cover of When the World Broke in Two: The Roaring Twenties and the Dawn of America's Culture Wars

What is my book about?

This is a history of America in the 1920s, one that connects the decade’s controversies to today’s culture wars. We can see growing tension between cities and towns in the 1920s in our battles between red states and blue states. Nativism and the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s reverberate in today’s bitter debates over immigration and racism. In Prohibition, an effort intended in part to keep immigrants in line, we see precursors to the war on drugs and mass incarceration. The fight over women’s role in politics, work, and the home raged in the 1920s, and still does so today. And the Protestant fundamentalism that frames the Religious Right emerged as a powerful force for the first time in the 1920s Scopes Trial. So, while many historians point to the 1960s as the starting point for the battle over American values and ideals, this history traces these conflicts to the newly modern 1920s.

Book cover of Conversations with James Baldwin

I discovered this compilation of many well- and lesser-known interviews when I began working on Baldwin in the year 2000. I love it as it gives us the writer in his own words, tracing his artistic development and views on his craft, exile, race, gender, and sexuality, as well as US politics, culture, and national identity. We follow Baldwin’s journey from 1961, with the famous Studs Terkel interview introducing “the young Negro writer,” to the “Last Interview” with Quincy Troupe, conducted in 1987, just days before Baldwin’s death in his beloved house in southern France. In between, we get a kaleidoscope of moments from his life and career and fascinating insights into his literary imaginary and humanistic philosophy. 

Conversations with James Baldwin

By James Baldwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Conversations with James Baldwin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This collection of interviews with James Baldwin covers the period 1961-1987, from the year of the publication of Nobody Knows My Names, his fourth book, to just a few weeks before his death. It includes the last formal conversation with him.

Twenty-seven interviews reprinted here come from a variety of sources--newspapers, radio, journals, and review--and show this celebrated author in all his eloquence, anger, and perception of racial, social, and literary situations in America.

Over the years Baldwin proved to be an easily accessible and cooperative subject for interviews, both in the United States and abroad. He frequently referred to…


Who am I?

Born and raised in Poland during the Cold War, I learned that writers and intellectuals could be jailed, exiled, or even killed for their ideas. I came to James Baldwin over two decades ago in search of literature that told of freedom and humanism beyond national borders and simplistic binaries. As a Black queer man driven away from his homeland, Baldwin linked his personal pain, heartbreak, and torment to his public life, authorship, and activism. His art and life story have both inspired my labors as a bilingual and bicultural literary critic and biographer and provided a template for my own journey as an immigrant, mother of a Black child, teacher, writer, and scholar.


I wrote...

James Baldwin's Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile

By Magdalena J. Zaborowska,

Book cover of James Baldwin's Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile

What is my book about?

Between 1961 and 1971 James Baldwin spent extended periods of time in Turkey, where he worked on some of his most important books. In this first in-depth exploration of Baldwin’s “Turkish decade,” Magdalena J. Zaborowska reveals the significant role that Turkish locales, cultures, and friends played in Baldwin’s life and thought. Turkey was a nurturing space for the author, who by 1961 had spent nearly ten years in France and Western Europe and failed to reestablish permanent residency in the United States. Zaborowska demonstrates how Baldwin’s Turkish sojourns enabled him to re-imagine himself as a black queer writer and to revise his views on American identity and U.S. race relations as the 1960s drew to a close.

The Struggle Is Eternal

By Joseph R. Fitzgerald,

Book cover of The Struggle Is Eternal: Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation

Joseph Fitzgerald’s powerful biography highlights the work and activism of Gloria Richardson. Her leadership of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee demonstrated not only her commitment to human rights, but also her willingness to embrace alternatives to nonviolent tactics. Fitzgerald delves into Richardson’s beliefs and strategies to capture her efforts to build a grassroots movement.

The Struggle Is Eternal

By Joseph R. Fitzgerald,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Struggle Is Eternal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Many prominent and well-known figures greatly impacted the civil rights movement, but one of the most influential and unsung leaders of that period was Gloria Richardson. As the leader of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC), a multifaceted liberation campaign formed to target segregation and racial inequality in Cambridge, Maryland, Richardson advocated for economic justice and tactics beyond nonviolent demonstrations. Her philosophies and strategies -- including her belief that black people had a right to self--defense -- were adopted, often without credit, by a number of civil rights and black power leaders and activists. The Struggle Is Eternal: Gloria Richardson…


Who am I?

I first learned about Fannie Lou Hamer more than a decade ago, and I have been deeply inspired by her life story and her words. I didn’t initially think I would write a book about her. But the uprisings of 2020 motivated me to do so. Like so many people, I struggled to make sense of everything that was unfolding, and I began to question whether change was possible. The more I read Hamer’s words, the more clarity I found. Her vision for the world and her commitment to improving conditions for all people gave me a renewed sense of hope and purpose.


I wrote...

Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America

By Keisha N. Blain,

Book cover of Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America

What is my book about?

A blend of social commentary, biography, and intellectual history, Until I Am Free is a manifesto for anyone committed to social justice. The book challenges us to listen to a working-poor and disabled Black woman activist and intellectual of the civil rights movement as we grapple with contemporary concerns around race, inequality, and social justice.

Award-winning historian and New York Times best-selling author Keisha N. Blain situates Fannie Lou Hamer as a key political thinker alongside leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks and demonstrates how her ideas remain salient for a new generation of activists committed to dismantling systems of oppression in the United States and across the globe.

Freshwater Road

By Denise Nicholas,

Book cover of Freshwater Road

The setting of the book was a huge draw for me—1960s Mississippi. Celeste is a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and she goes to rural Mississippi in 1964 to take part in Freedom Summer, a major event of the Civil Rights Movement.

I enjoyed this because, for all its drama, heroism, and moral righteousness, the Civil Rights Movement doesn’t get a lot of attention in historical fiction. I feel like it should.

Readers will be drawn in by the all-encompassing scope of segregation in 1960s Mississippi. Add in some characters with secrets, some people who unexpectedly rise to the occasion, and the overall climate of fear that pervaded Mississippi at the time, and you’ll enjoy this book if you care about civil rights at all.

Freshwater Road

By Denise Nicholas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Freshwater Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The critically acclaimed debut novel from pioneering actress and writer Denise Nicholas tells the story of one young woman's coming of age via the political and social upheavals of the civil rights movement. Nineteen-year-old Celeste Tyree leaves Ann Arbor to go to Pineyville, Mississippi, in the summer of 1964 to help found a voter registration project as part of Freedom Summer. As the summer unfolds, she confronts not only the political realities of race and poverty in this tiny town, but also deep truths about her family and herself. Drawing on Nicholas' own involvement in the movement, Freshwater Road was…


Who am I?

I have a PhD in history and used to be a college professor. I decided to write historical fiction novels so that I could reach a larger audience than college students and share incredible stories from history with more people. The reason I created this list of books about women is because the farther back in history we look, the more invisible women seem to become. That’s why I wanted to tell Theodora’s story—it’s an amazing tale, first, but it also allowed me to share how different conditions were for women in the past. The other books I’ve recommended do the same.


I wrote...

Theodora

By Rob Bauer,

Book cover of Theodora

What is my book about?

Theodora of Byzantium is a scandalous teenage actress and Constantinople’s most sought-after courtesan. But she didn’t choose that life. Her mother and sister were actresses, so in Byzantium’s rigid and patriarchal society Theodora must be one, too. She vows that one day she’ll free herself from the whims of men and the shame of flaunting her body for money.

Theodora’s only route to personal freedom is to break society’s rules and seduce men of wealth and power. The religious and political enemies she makes in the process, however, put the lives of Theodora and her sister, Comito, in danger.

Martin's Big Words

By Doreen Rappaport, Bryan Collier (illustrator),

Book cover of Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Reverend Martin Luther King is best known for his rousing “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington. This biography shows how his religious upbringing in the segregated South honed the faith and fortitude to lead the Civil Rights Movement.

Martin's Big Words

By Doreen Rappaport, Bryan Collier (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Martin's Big Words as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


This picture book biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brings his life and the profound nature of his message to young children through his own words.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the most influential and gifted speakers of all time. Doreen Rappaport uses quotes from some of his most beloved speeches to tell the story of his life and his work in a simple, direct way. Bryan Collier's stunning collage art combines remarkable watercolor paintings with vibrant patterns and textures. A timeline and a lsit of additional books and web sites help make this a standout biography…


Who am I?

Carole Boston Weatherford, author of Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, has over 60 books, including the Newbery Honor winner, BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom, and three Caldecott Honor winners: Freedom in Congo Square, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. Recent titles include Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe, R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul, and The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop. A two-time NAACP Image Award winner, she teaches at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.


I wrote...

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Ekua Holmes (illustrator),

Book cover of Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

What is my book about?

Stirring poems and stunning collage illustrations combine to celebrate the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a champion of equal voting rights.

Despite fierce prejudice and abuse, even being beaten to within an inch of her life, Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of civil rights from the 1950s until her death in 1977. Integral to the Freedom Summer of 1964, Ms. Hamer gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that, despite President Johnson’s interference, aired on national TV news and spurred the nation to support the Freedom Democrats. Featuring vibrant mixed-media art full of intricate detail, Voice of Freedom celebrates Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and legacy with a message of hope, determination, and strength.

Bearing the Cross

By David J. Garrow,

Book cover of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Garrow’s Pulitzer-prize winning biography is the first complete, almost minute-by-minute, account of King’s life based on extensive research in the King documents, interviews with dozens of his associates, and a deep understanding of American history in that period. Garrow picks up the story just as King comes to Montgomery, and there are other books to read about the young King before 1954, but from there forward, Garrow’s is the indispensable account, and was the first book to really delve into the FBI’s surveillance of King.

Bearing the Cross

By David J. Garrow,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Bearing the Cross as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the 7th annual Robert Kennedy Book Award, this biography of Martin Luther King, first published in 1986, portrays the struggles and conflicts within the man who became the incarnation of the civil rights movement in America. It is based on more than 700 interviews with King's associates and with the Southern law men who worked against him, and on the author's access to King's personal papers and thousands of pages of newly-released FBI documents relating to the most radical uprising in American history.


Who am I?

I have spent my entire academic career researching and teaching about American religious history, particularly focusing on issues of race and religion. I am the author of numerous works on this topic, including The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in American History (co-authored with Edward J. Blum), and Howard Thurman and the Disinherited: A Religious Biography. Finally, after thirty years of work, I challenged myself to write a short reader-friendly biography of King that would capture him as fully as possible, but in a brief book that would communicate to general readers the full measure of the man.


I wrote...

Martin Luther King: A Religious Life

By Paul Harvey,

Book cover of Martin Luther King: A Religious Life

What is my book about?

In this new biography of Martin Luther King, we look at his life through the prism of his evolving faith and through his complex, emerging, religious lives.

Readers will learn about Martin Luther King's diverse religious and intellectual influences, of an increasingly radical cast of thought, and of a mélange of intellectual influences that he aligned in becoming the spokesperson for the most important social movement of twentieth-century American history. Not only does Harvey chronicle King's metamorphosis and its impact on American and African American life, but he seeks to explain his "afterlives"--how in American culture King became transformed into a mainstream civil saint, shorn of his radical religious critique of how power functioned in America. Harvey's concise biography will allow readers to see King anew in the context of his time and today.

Voice of Deliverance

By Keith D. Miller,

Book cover of Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Its Sources

This groundbreaking study is an insider’s guide to how a whole era of black southern preachers spoke to their congregations. Ever-curious about the artistry it takes to riff, remix, and sample earlier sources, this book illuminates the added depth that comes with language once the various trajectories of its previous uses are named, contextualized, and dated. Every new voice has an older one behind it. Seeing where they merge is a fascinating journey when someone this informed is driving.

Voice of Deliverance

By Keith D. Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Voice of Deliverance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Martin Luther King Jr's words defined, mobilized and embodied much of the American civil rights movement, crystallizing the hope and demand for racial justice in America. His powerful sermons and speeches were unique in their ability to unite blacks and whites in the quest for reform. Yet, disclosures about King's unattributed appropriations in his PhD dissertation have raised the broader question of whether King's persuasive voice was truly his own. In this study of the language of King, Keith D. Miller explores his words to find the intellectual roots, spiritual resonances and actual sources of those speeches and essays that…


Who am I?

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.  


I wrote...

Origins of the Dream: Hughes's Poetry and King's Rhetoric

By W. Jason Miller,

Book cover of Origins of the Dream: Hughes's Poetry and King's Rhetoric

What is my book about?

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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