THE KING GOD DIDN'T SAVE: Reflections on the Life and Death of Martin Luther King, Jr. by John A. Williams

THE KING GOD DIDN'T SAVE: Reflections on the Life and Death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Biographers have begun to descend in force upon Martin Luther King, Jr., some to record the facts of his life and some to render judgment. Black novelist John A. Williams, whose sympathies are strongly pro-black power, anti-nonviolence, and anti-religion, falls into the latter category, for he has much to say about the mistakes and shortcomings of King's leadership. But his unsparing portrayal of King's career as public and private man also takes cognizance of King's special greatness, his achievements, and his potential for growth. And as much as this is a study of King himself, it is also a study of ""the awesome exercise of white power"" that created and exploited his myth as the good black leader, blunted his actual effectiveness, pressured and threatened him over Vietnam and the Poor People's March, and finally ""cut King down in conspiracy, and then conspired to plug the memory of the man with putty."" The first half of Williams' book is a rough retracing of the course of King's public life and the black movement, dotted with Williams' personal recollections and political opinions. Part Two on ""The Private Man"" reflects Williams' vision of King's key weaknesses: his naive religious-moral idealism in the face of organized religion's sorry racial record and America's obvious immorality; his middleclass orientation and ""inbred inability to relate to the black underclass""; his susceptibility to the pulls of popularity and prestige; and his tendency to step down from crucial confrontations and accept compromises. But Williams tries to understand rather than condemn, and he offers a substantial reason for some of King's vacillations: political blackmail. The FBI, allegedly in possession of compromising tapes and photographs (Williams includes his own interviews with reporters and anonymous women which allude to indiscretions), pressured King to ""soft-pedal"" his activities, and ""King went along with the program to some extent"" (e.g., in the Selma backdown). When he finally broke free to denounce the Vietnam War, his life ""was now measured."" Not a full-fledged biography, but a well-written, angry, and acute personal appraisal of the meaning and message of King's life.

Pub Date: Aug. 17th, 1970
Publisher: Coward-McCann