Essential reading about a moment of surpassing political and moral importance.

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BEHIND THE DREAM

THE MAKING OF THE SPEECH THAT TRANSFORMED A NATION

With the assistance of filmmaker and Huffington Post contributor Connelly, Jones, who was present at the creation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, revisits the forces that generated the 1963 March on Washington and that animated the speech that now represents an entire era.

The author, a former attorney for King, does not offer a detailed account of how King and his advisors crafted the speech; for that, see Drew Hansen’s The Dream (2003) or Eric J. Sundquist’s King’s Dream (2009). In fact, writes Jones, he did not even see a final copy before he heard it, but he was pleased that King kept his suggestion for the initial image of the promissory note. However, the author provides numerous intriguing insider insights about life on the road with King—notably, the amusing moment when Jones, frustrated with the egos of some of the other speakers elbowing for position in the event’s final, prime slot, asked if any of them really wanted to follow King to the podium; none did. Jones also confirms a couple of stories: that the Justice Department did indeed have a “kill switch” on the sound system, and that gospel singer Mahalia Jackson urged King during the speech to talk about his dream, at which point King turned his prepared remarks face down and continued somewhat extemporaneously. Jones explains how and why he, at the last minute, copyrighted the speech, and he pays homage to Nelson Rockefeller and Sen. Ted Kennedy—though he is less generous to JFK and RFK. He describes severe worries and frustration, given that the daunting logistics of the March, and ends with some reflections on America’s enduring racism, the contentious issue of reparations and the uneven presidency of Barack Obama.

Essential reading about a moment of surpassing political and moral importance.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-230-10368-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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