Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year

Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year

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by Tavis Smiley

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A revealing and dramatic chronicle of the twelve months leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Martin Luther King, Jr. died in one of the most shocking assassinations the world has known, but little is remembered about the life he led in his final year. New York Times bestselling author and award-winning broadcaster Tavis


A revealing and dramatic chronicle of the twelve months leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Martin Luther King, Jr. died in one of the most shocking assassinations the world has known, but little is remembered about the life he led in his final year. New York Times bestselling author and award-winning broadcaster Tavis Smiley recounts the final 365 days of King's life, revealing the minister's trials and tribulations -- denunciations by the press, rejection from the president, dismissal by the country's black middle class and militants, assaults on his character, ideology, and political tactics, to name a few -- all of which he had to rise above in order to lead and address the racism, poverty, and militarism that threatened to destroy our democracy.

Smiley's DEATH OF A KING paints a portrait of a leader and visionary in a narrative different from all that have come before. Here is an exceptional glimpse into King's life -- one that adds both nuance and gravitas to his legacy as an American hero.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Clay Risen
Smiley's goal, which he mostly achieves, is to personalize King, to show him in full and, in doing so, to display the radical behind the soaring rhetoric. [Taylor] Branch, in his three-part biography of King, portrays him as a latter-day Moses, a largely unimpeachable and, therefore, largely unknowable figure. But in Smiley's book, the more apt biblical figure is Christ: a revolutionary who sins, suffers and doubts, and yet somehow triumphs…Smiley's King is at once more flawed and more human than we have come to see him. But for that reason he is even more courageous, and more admirable.
Publishers Weekly
"In his last year, what kind of man had Martin Luther King, Jr. become?" is the question Smiley (What I Know for Sure) raises, asserting that he has "come to firmly believe that, in a critical way, is misunderstood." The book focuses for the most part on the year between King's April 4, 1967 anti-war speech in New York and his April 4, 1968 assassination in Memphis, but also passes through such earlier landmarks as the Montgomery bus boycott and the March on Washington. Snippets from King's sermons, speeches, and press conferences abound, along with tidbits from the media coverage of the time. Smiley also covers King's marital problems, depression, smoking and drinking habits, musical tastes, and even his (hypothetical) internal thoughts. Smiley's referring to his subject throughout as "Doc," which was King's nickname among his "most trusted colleagues," here comes across as distracting. It is, however, typical of the book's chatty prose, which stumbles when attempting weighty references ("Like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane") or lyricism ("The sea sparkles with moonlight.") The answer to Smiley's opening question appears to be that King became deeply concerned with peace and poverty, no great revelation for anyone even passingly familiar with the history of those years. But Smiley's efforts to show the man who was his hero since he was a young boy adds a dimension to the reams of writing about Dr. King. Agent: David Vigliano and Thomas Flannery Jr., Vigliano Associates (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
A reverential look at Martin Luther King Jr.'s last agonizing year that does not disguise the flaws of a saint. The humanity and moral conviction of this great civil rights leader emerge in talk show host Smiley (Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure, 2011, etc.) and co-writer Ritz's poignant account of King's final struggle. In the introduction, Smiley asserts that King's "martyrdom has undermined his message" and that during the last year of his life, the Nobel Prize winner returned to his original message of nonviolence with all the conviction of his preacher's soul. The author catches up with the beleaguered minister as he is headed to Manhattan's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, for what would be a definitive and divisive sermon denouncing the Vietnam War—indeed, he attacks "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," the American government. King—whom Smiley refers to as "Doc," since that is what his colleagues called him, and it takes him off his pedestal—was excoriated widely for his anti-war stance not only by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson (with whom King had worked closely for the passage of several civil rights bills in Congress), but especially by black critics like Carl Rowan and leading newspapers for introducing "matters that have nothing to do with the legitimate battle for equal rights in America." Yet King believed that black soldiers dying for a senseless war in Vietnam was immoral, and he continued to insist in his speeches that "the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together." Depressed by the rioting in cities, drinking heavily, guilt-ridden by his affairs and plagued by death threats, King nonetheless found in poverty the message that drove him finally to stand with the Memphis sanitation workers in his final hours. An eloquent, emotional journey from darkness to light.
From the Publisher
Winner of the Jessie Redmon Fauset Book Award

"A reverential look at Martin Luther King Jr.'s last agonizing year that does not disguise the flaws of a saint.... [A] poignant account of King's final struggle. An eloquent, emotional journey from darkness to light."—Kirkus Reviews

"Tavis Smiley has captured not only the spirit of the movement, but the Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his last days. We didn't realize it but he knew he was on his way to Jerusalem, and as much as we tried to deter him, he fought back."—Andrew Young, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and former Mayor of Atlanta

"Death of a King is a fitting climax to a noble saga. It is here adequately told and placed before history."—Reverend Gardner C. Taylor

A "microscopically focused biography, which trades in both weighty events and the everyday joys of family life."—Time

"Tavis Smiley has brought forward in his book Death of a King an accounting of the last year Dr. King was physically with us -- an accounting very much needed. Tavis rightfully emphasizes the error it is to continually emphasize his martyrdom mostly with no mention of the great work he did. Tavis's book helps people focus on his work and the spirit with which he worked."—Dorothy F. Cotton, Education Director for SCLC, the organization led by Dr. King

"Tavis Smiley illuminates the passion and struggle of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last 365 days."—AARP's Editors' Picks

"One of the most important political voices of his generation."—The Philadelphia Inquirer

"A dramatic retelling of King's final and pivotal year."—Leonard Gill, Memphis Flyer

"Death of a King paints a portrait of a leader and visionary in a revealing and dramatic chronicle of the 12 months leading up to King's assassination."—Nicole M. Robertson, The Oakland Press

"Smiley also serves as the reader for the audio, a factor that gives another level of personalization to the already gripping narrative. In the introduction, Smiley remembers how when he was growing up, he recited the speeches of Dr. King in order to "find his own voice." And what a voice it is. Smiley's narration is smooth, measured, and backed by a rich, authoritative tone that truly adds another level of sentimentality and familiarity to the audio. Recommended for history buffs and those interested particularly in Dr. King."—Brian Odom, Booklist

"A must-read.... ... King feels like a real person instead of a larger-than-life caricature."—Kelvin Wade, Daily Republic

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Tavis Smiley is the host of PBS's Tavis Smiley and Public Radio International's The Tavis Smiley Show. Smiley is also the bestselling author of 16 books. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

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Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
ctfranklin28 More than 1 year ago
“Death of a King” is one of those books that changed my life after reading it. Never have I read a book that so intricately described a person that I have heard about so much in my life. Tavis Smily (with David Ritz) put together a truly powerful book that shows the complexity of following your heart, even when the crowd is no longer with you. In this book, you see the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after the “I Have a Dream Speech”. The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who had to battle people questioning his moves against the Vietnam War, questioning the efficacy of non-violence, and people questioning whether Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. really could bring about the “Dream” he so believed in. Yet, you also get to the see the other side of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that is rarely discussed. You see the Dr. King, who likes to joke, is worried about his duties as a father, listening to Aretha Franklin, and trying to keep his struggling non-profit together. You’ll see the depressed side, the personally morally conflicted side, the angry side, the tired side, and more. After seeing so many frozen images of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. as a civil rights activist, this was the first book I read that treated him as a human. It’s a truly multi-faceted and well-researched book that I would put in the same category of Alex Haley’s “Autobiography of Malcolm X”. I encourage anyone who wants to do a deeper study of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and his life to read it. I got this book from the library, but I’m buying it for my personal collection. There is great content for reflection in each chapter. It is amazing that Tavis Smiley was able to capture the essence of Dr. King’s life in one year in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written book, delicately written with pure interest, respect and love. I loved it and wanted to read the whole thing in one day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No Blackification or Diatification here. The raw reality of King taking on the powers of 1970 American. Martin King is seen in a very different light and one that brings out the depth of his importance to America
avidreader0038 More than 1 year ago
I purchased this Book from Amazon and have read about 30% , It is fairly written but is not a very good Read I find that the Author's use of " Doc " when referring to Rev. King to be Off-Putting in that I am not familiar with that nickname being used in the past. So far I have found nothing New to justify the Sub Title "The Real Story Of Dr.Martin Luther King"
Anonymous 4 months ago
This is a very inspiring book and makes me think a lot about how life was back then with only white people being treated well and other skins having to suffer i just it realy makes me think about that time and i just feel so bad but then martin luther king came in and gave his i had a dream speech and know because of hime we can all do the same thing he really was a hero that i bet nobody would forget
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
love-2-readJT More than 1 year ago
I thought this book by Tavis Smiley was insightful into the life of Dr. King. A lot of things about the man that I don't think many people know. A lot of what the book says is also Smiley's interpretation from his research. A good, easy flowing read, just the same.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tavis Smiley is captivating in his report of Dr. King's plight. His oratory skills are dynamic and entertaining, while recreating a vivid account of this historical time. Well worth anyone's time and effort to add this literary piece to their collection.