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.