King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop

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In This Fast-Paced Biography, Harvard Sitkoff Presents a stunningly relevant and radical King. Honestly assessing his successes alongside his failures, King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop weaves together high and low points to capture King's lifelong struggle, through disappointment and epiphany, with his own injunction: "Let us be Christian in all our actions." By telling King's life as one on the verge of reaching its fulfillment, Sitkoff powerfully shows where King's faith and activism were leading him - to a ...
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Overview

In This Fast-Paced Biography, Harvard Sitkoff Presents a stunningly relevant and radical King. Honestly assessing his successes alongside his failures, King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop weaves together high and low points to capture King's lifelong struggle, through disappointment and epiphany, with his own injunction: "Let us be Christian in all our actions." By telling King's life as one on the verge of reaching its fulfillment, Sitkoff powerfully shows where King's faith and activism were leading him - to a direct confrontation with a president over an immoral war and with an America blind to its complicity in economic injustice.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Historian Sitkoff covers the major points in the time line of King's life and the Civil Rights movement-from the Montgomery bus boycott to the March on Washington, his anti-Vietnam War activism and assassination in 1968-but this brief, rudimentary volume will enlighten only the most novice student of Civil Rights history. The author passes through major moments in an informal tone that borders on the flippant ("King the gentle Jesus had bested [Birmingham police commissioner Eugene "Bull"] Connor the sadistic Satan"). Sitkoff (The Enduring Vision, co-editor) attends to the civil rights leader's flaws as well as his accomplishments, noting King's early plagiarism and making frequent reference to his sexual dalliances ("King flitted from one thinker to another at almost the same rate as he wrecked young women"). Though Sitkoff includes excerpts from King's books and speeches (jazzed up with audience responses, e.g., "All right, yessir!"), neophytes are better served by David J. Garrow's Pulitzer Prize-winning Bearing the Cross, which Sitkoff acknowledges in his ample and gracious "Bibliographic Essay." (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Historian Sitkoff covers the major points in the time line of King's life and the Civil Rights movement-from the Montgomery bus boycott to the March on Washington, his anti-Vietnam War activism and assassination in 1968-but this brief, rudimentary volume will enlighten only the most novice student of Civil Rights history. The author passes through major moments in an informal tone that borders on the flippant ("King the gentle Jesus had bested [Birmingham police commissioner Eugene "Bull"] Connor the sadistic Satan"). Sitkoff (The Enduring Vision, co-editor) attends to the civil rights leader's flaws as well as his accomplishments, noting King's early plagiarism and making frequent reference to his sexual dalliances ("King flitted from one thinker to another at almost the same rate as he wrecked young women"). Though Sitkoff includes excerpts from King's books and speeches (jazzed up with audience responses, e.g., "All right, yessir!"), neophytes are better served by David J. Garrow's Pulitzer Prize-winning Bearing the Cross, which Sitkoff acknowledges in his ample and gracious "Bibliographic Essay." (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Concise biography of the famed civil-rights leader. Sitkoff (History/Univ. of New Hampshire; The Struggle for Black Equality, 1945-1992, 1993, etc.) covers familiar ground in an easy-to-read book that traces the life of Martin Luther King Jr. from his 1929 birth in segregated Atlanta to his assassination in 1968 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Setting King against the backdrop of the already well-documented racial conflicts of his times, the author chronicles in unaffected prose the events that garnered the Baptist minister the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and made him a target of U.S. government-sanctioned surveillance and attacks. (Sitkoff notes that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover routinely referred to King as "burrhead," among other invectives.) The text revisits the highlights: the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott that catapulted King to national attention; the 1963 March on Washington at which he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech; the Birmingham church bombing that rocked King's faith in nonviolent protest; and finally, the political pressures that put him in the firing line of gunman James Earl Ray. In sure-to-be-contentious passages about King's string of extramarital affairs, Sitkoff cites a long tradition of infidelity among black preachers. Regrettably, the author offers no views on the conspiracy theories that continue to swirl around Ray, who later recanted his guilty plea and died in prison in 1998. The recent deaths of King's daughter Yolanda and wife Coretta-whose 1969 memoir My Life With Martin Luther King, Jr. merits a wider readership-are likely to prompt franker, more compelling books than this competent summary of previous scholarship. A lengthybibliographical essay cites as references scores of King-related works, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies by Taylor Branch and David Garrow. Serviceable but undistinguished fare for those disinclined to read more substantial texts.
From the Publisher
“Sitkoff provides a vivid portrait that deserves to be widely read, not only as the standard short King biography but also as an incisive essay on his significance today.” —San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

“Written with skill and imagination . . . King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop is clearly the best short biography we have of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Harvard Sitkoff wants to remind us of his subject’s subversive agenda, and to banish the ‘airbrushed’ portrait of a ‘moderate, respectable ally of presidents’ . . . Sitkoff argues that the more militant King is the more relevant King. And he’s right.” —The New York Observer

“Persuasive . . . Sitkoff’s skillful choice of material, his organization of the text and his fine writing style (especially compared with most academic historians) raise the biography to the top rank of books about King.” —The News and Observer (Raleigh)

“King is a perfect combination of author and subject: one of the deans of civil rights history tracing the life of the movement’s towering figure. Harvard Sitkoff has performed a remarkable feat, giving us a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., that is simultaneously concise and complex, judicious and deeply moving.” —Kevin Boyle, author of the National Book Award–winning Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809095162
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 12/26/2007
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Harvard Sitkoff is a professor of history at the University of New Hampshire and the author or editor of more than eight books, including The Struggle for Black Equality (Hill and Wang, 2008), A New Deal for Blacks, and A History of Our Time.

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Read an Excerpt


King

Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop

By Sitkoff, Harvard Hill and Wang
Copyright © 2007
Sitkoff, Harvard
All right reserved.


ISBN: 9780809095162

Preface
Martin Luther King, Jr., is as relevant today as in the 1960s, perhaps more so. That is the reason for King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop. It brings to life the King who, in the face of great odds, altered American habits of thought and action more than any other figure of his century, and made the United States far more just, democratic, and egalitarian. King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop reminds us of why he moved the conscience of a generation, of how he changed hearts. Moreover, in a world of war, poverty, and murderous racial and religious hatreds, it emphasizes King’s unfulfilled radical agenda. This portrayal of Martin Luther King is not the King generally celebrated today.
His radicalism, not just in the last year of his life but throughout much of his career, has been airbrushed out of the historical picture. As C. Vann Woodward famously wrote: “The twilight zone that lies between memory and written history is one of the favorite breeding places of mythology.” Nowhere is this truer than in contemporary celebrations of King’s birthday that portray him as a moderate, respectable ally of presidents and a facile spokesperson for the American Dream. The same government that once reviled him, viewing him as “dangerous” and a “pariah” for his alleged ties to Communists and his preaching radical liberation theology, now holds him upas a model of peaceful, incremental change. Because of his goodness, so the story goes, whites recognized the errors of their ways and made all the necessary changes in race relations to rectify the nation’s shameful past. As such, King is the nice man who helped solve the problems of the past, rather than someone who challenges us to solve the problems of our present injustices and inequities. His canonization has turned him into a historical relic no longer relevant. Ignored is his lifelong commitment to social justice, his abhorrence of war and militarism, his insistence on ending every vestige of colonialism and imperialism, and his crusade to end poverty and privation. Ignored is his claim that the American civil rights movement was but one aspect of an international human rights revolution against “political domination and economic exploitation.”
The endless replaying of his “I Have a Dream” speech has drowned out King’s dream of a just society based on “a radical redistribution of economic and political power.” It has drowned out what he reiterated in 1965: “I still have a dream that one day all of God’s children will have food and clothing and material well-being for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, and freedom for their spirits.” And it disregards the King who, as early as the 1950s, called for world disarmament, an end to apartheid in South Africa, a global war on poverty, and “special treatment” to assist African-Americans to overcome historic racism. Although politicians holding forth on King Day fail to recall this, or his strident condemnations of America’s war in Vietnam and his unequivocal demands for “basic structural changes in the architecture of American society,” King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop emphasizes them and sees them rooted in his long-held belief in religiously inspired democratic socialism and the Christian Social Gospel tradition.
Like Woodward, I hope to illuminate why, in sharp contrast to the funeral of Coretta Scott King in 2006, attended by the president of the United States and three ex-presidents, neither President Lyndon Johnson nor the two ex-presidents then alive bothered with the funeral rites for Martin Luther King, Jr. As many Americans hated King as loved him, and by 1968 most had turned their backs on him. They disapproved of his aims and tactics. A vast majority condemned his forceful criticism of America’s role in the Vietnam War and of how that conflict caused domestic needs to be downplayed or dismissed. Even more decried his involvement in an unruly strike by garbage workers, and considered unnecessarily provocative and reckless his plan to bring an army of the dispossessed to Washington to wage a nonviolent campaign of civil disobedience against all those institutions that denied dignity and opportunity and hope to the downtrodden.
The King often shunned by those in power and despised by many in the population is the King I have depicted. King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop is based on the latest scholarship, and makes great use of the publication of The Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers by the University of California Press, as well as writings by and about others involved with King. One cannot write a synthesis such as this without relying heavily on the extraordinary work of scholars, journalists, and movement participants. Such works as Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of a Mind by John J. Ansbro, Going Down Jericho Road by Michael J. Honey, and David J. Garrow’s Bearing the Cross have set the standard for scholarship on King. They remain unsurpassed in their depth of research and quality of analysis. But I have chosen to write neither another monograph by an academic for academics nor another biographical tome that too few have time enough to read. Instead, I have sought to craft a brief yet stirring narrative for a twenty-first-century readership that illustrates the historical forces that shaped King, and how he, in turn, changed American society. In addition to King’s radicalism, King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop highlights both his awesome achievements and failures; it describes the American-style apartheid of the South that King was born into and would do so much to overturn; it explains his foibles, and why he sometimes acted more like a politician than a preacher; it examines the legendary black preaching tradition, the source of King’s oratorical power, and the importance of it to the successful drive to end racial segregation and disenfranchisement; it dramatizes the interplay between King and the movement for racial justice, and how that dynamic changed both King and the movement; it documents FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover’s effort to destroy King and the movement by harassment and persecution; and it depicts King both making history and being made by history.
Most of all, King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop emphasizes the centrality of King’s faith to his political and social activism. At heart a clergyman and Baptist preacher, King experienced the movement as a sacred mission. His goals and strategies were rooted in the African-American Christian folk religion—the religion of his slave forebears. The black church sustained King’s Social Gospel dream, and gave him the courage, the oratorical skills, and the spiritual vision to change the course of American and world history. Coupling his religious ideas with the nation’s core civic values enabled him, at one and the same time, to inspire and energize black Americans to struggle for their rights, and to sway white Americans to understand and support that endeavor. However overwrought or sometimes paralyzed by fear he became, King’s bibical faith enabled him to keep his eyes on the prize, to put righteousness before expediency, despite the beatings, jailings, inner turmoil, and constant threats of assassination.
At the same time, I also stress King’s fallibility. This is not a sanitized biography. I have tried to acknowledge and to explain his flaws and weaknesses. Martin Luther King, Jr., was not a saint. He was an imperfect man with many of the failings of other mere mortals. Certainly he should have been a better husband and father, should have been a more honest scholar. Hardly infallible, frequently indecisive and irresolute, he compromised too much and at times acted timidly. And he failed as often as he succeeded.
Many, I fear, will find my account of the murder of King to be too abrupt. That more surely needs to be explained, I wholeheartedly agree. But far too much still remains unclear and unknown about the assassination. Its aftermath, moreover, requires a book at least as long as this one.
Finally, I have tried to place King in the context of the movement for freedom and for justice and for equality that he helped make and that made him. As Vincent Harding reminds us, King simultaneously nurtured and drew sustenance from, shaped and was shaped by that movement. The interplay between them changed both, so King never stood still for long. He moved with history, going from merely asking for more courteous trreatment of blacks on the Montgomery buses to struggling for the complete abolition of the Jim Crow system, to transforming American society on behalf of its poorest, most neglected peoples of all races. I think it important to underline that King and the movement were not synonymous, that many civil rights campaigns were neither initiated nor led by King, and that success in the black freedom struggle often depended far more on the extraordinary efforts of the ordinary people who walked the streets of Montgomery and filled the jails of Birmingham than it did on the charisma of those at the top. At the same time, I acknowledge that King was the movement’s preeminent spokesperson, symbol, and leader. He was the right man, with the right talents, at the right time. The eloquent conscience of his generation, King, as stated in the citation for his posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom, “made our nation stronger because he made it better.” Yet his dreams of true brotherhood, of a world without war, of “a world in which men no longer take necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes,” remain dreams. And the lessons of his life, that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” that “freedom is a constant struggle,” remain to be learned. 
Excerpted from King by Harvard Sitkoff. Copyright © 2008 by Harvard Sitkoff. Published in December 2007 by Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

Continues...


Excerpted from King by Sitkoff, Harvard Copyright © 2007 by Sitkoff, Harvard. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Preface xi

1 Educating a Preacher King, 1929-54 3

2 Baptism by Fire, 1955-56 25

3 These Humble Children of God, 1957-62 57

4 Confronting the Conscience of America, 1963 89

5 Redemption and Crisis, 1964 115

6 We Shall Overcome, 1965 147

7 The Road to Jericho via Chicago, 1966 175

8 Seeing Lazarus, 1967-68 207

Bibliographical Essay 235

Acknowledgments 253

Index 255

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