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A Biography

David L. Lewis

Publication Year: 2013

Acclaimed by leading historians and critics when it appeared shortly after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this foundational biography wends through the corridors in which King held court, posing the right questions and providing a keen measure of the man whose career and mission enthrall scholars and general readers to this day. Updated with a new preface and more than a dozen photographs of King and his contemporaries, this edition presents the unforgettable story of King's life and death for a new generation.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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pp. 1-5

Title page

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p. 6-6


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pp. 7-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xxiv

The day Martin King was assassinated, I had reached a decision that I had never imagined would be mine to make. I had been asked to consider writing this biography just two weeks earlier. As I was drafting the letter of acceptance to the publisher, the news of the Lorraine Motel tragedy was announced. ...

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1. Doctor, Lawyer—Preacher?

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pp. 3-26

In Montgomery, people now point out with awe the place where Rosa Parks was put off the bus and into custody, often remarking, "That's where it all began." By "all" they mean not only the Montgomery bus boycott but the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born "a Negro" in Atlanta on January 15, 1929. ...

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2. The Philosopher King

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pp. 27-45

Chester, Pennsylvania, the site of Crozer Theological Seminary, is an industrial city with a population of about 66,000. It was here that William Penn and his followers first set foot on the real estate that a debt-ridden British sovereign had granted to his worrisome Quaker subjects. ...

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3. Stride Toward Freedom

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pp. 46-84

One Saturday afternoon in January, 1954, as he drove to Montgomery, Alabama, listening to the strains of a favorite Donizetti aria on his radio, Mike King was positive that he had made the correct choice in Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Dexter's standards, he knew, were formidably high. ...

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4. Satyagraha, Home-grown

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pp. 85-111

"It is becoming clear," Martin prophesied at the end of the Montgomery struggle, "that the Negro is in for a season of suffering." As the legal victories of American blacks accumulated, he anticipated a steeply rising curve of Southern obstructionism on the order of that at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, ...

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5. Skirmishing in Atlanta

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pp. 112-139

It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a city whose black population was more smug and more affluent than Atlanta's in 1960. Atlanta was a fount of black wealth and, ergo, black wisdom in the deep South. It was in its Citizens Trust Bank that the MIA had deposited a great portion of its funds. ...

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6. Albany, Georgia—Nonviolence in Black and White

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pp. 140-170

In his Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. DuBois, the doyen of American historians, described Albany, Georgia, as a "wide-streeted, placid, Southern town, with a broad sweep of stores and saloons, and flanking rows of homes-whites usually to the north, and blacks to the south. ...

Image Plates

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pp. 196-203

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7. Birmingham—Nonviolence in Black, Violence in White

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pp. 171-209

There were nearly 350,000 people in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963; almost all of those who were black would have preferred to live elsewhere. The widely held notion that burgeoning commerce and industry tend to make for social as well as economic progress was wholly inapplicable to this city. ...

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8. The Strength of a Dream

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pp. 210-263

While Birmingham sutured its wounds, Martin undertook a triumphal tour from California to New York. In Los Angeles, 25,000 people turned out to hear his description of the recent struggle and bold prognoses of grander accomplishments. Nothing typifies better Martin's uncanny ability to weave into his elevated speeches ...

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9. Crisis and Compromise—The Walk to Selma Bridge

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pp. 264-296

"You see, most of your Selma Negroes are descended from the Ibo and Angola tribes of Africa," Circuit Court Judge James Hare told a visiting journalist by way of explaining the city's history of terrible racial oppression : "You could never teach or trust an Ibo back in slave days, and even today I can spot their tribal characteristics. ...

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10. The Fire Next Time

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pp. 297-312

The period between the Selma and the Chicago campaigns is an amorphous one. SCLC Newsletter reported a Midwestern People-to-People tour, an appearance at the White House, an SCLC plenary convention, European awards and speaking engagements, rallies—a maelstrom of activity for which not even the excitement ...

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11. The Pied Piper of Hamlin Avenue—Chicago and Mississippi

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pp. 313-353

There are dozens of cities in America blighted by bossism, poverty, crime, corruption, police brutality, and civic indifference to the poor and the racially disadvantaged. Probably none of them rivals Chicago in the perfection of these evils collectively. Of its 3.5 million people nearly 1 million are black, ...

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12. Killers of the Dream

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pp. 354-389

"For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of the society, a little change here, a little change there," Martin said in the summer after Chicago. "Now I feel quite differently. I think you've got to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values." ...

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Epilogue: Free at Last

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pp. 390-397

Martin Luther King, Jr., had told them that he wanted a simple and brief service when he died. Instead, his last rites were protracted, elaborate, and fussily confused. The Vice-President of the United States, the chief contenders for presidential nomination, fifty members of the House of Representatives, ...

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Postscript: Reflections after a Decade

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pp. 398-406

Ten years have passed since Martin Luther King, Jr., was slain. It seems much, much longer, for the time in which he lived, the sixties—by any measure the most revolutionary since the upheaval of the Civil War—is now as remote as the Progressive Era or the Great Depression. ...


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pp. 407-424

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 425-446


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pp. 447-468

E-ISBN-13: 9780252094781
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252079092

Page Count: 504
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968.
  • African Americans -- Biography.
  • Baptists -- Clergy -- Biography.
  • Clergy -- United States -- Biography.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights.
  • Civil rights movements -- United States.
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