Unique portrait of the civil-rights struggle in Montgomery, Ala., and how it shaped one of the country’s foremost revolutionaries.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s transformation into the voice of America’s moral conscience would not have been possible without the influence of the grassroots warriors he met in Montgomery, where he won an appointment as pastor of the renowned Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Arriving in the Alabama capital in mid-1954, King was a doe-eyed 25-year-old doctoral student from Boston University, armed with little more than untested ideology and a theory about “social gospel.” His resolve to tackle inequality manifested itself with more clarity during the first year of his pastorate as seething racial tensions began to boil over across the country. He ordered the formation of a social and political task force at Dexter, which brought him into contact with members of the city’s activist community, including E.D. Nixon, Rosa Parks and Jo Ann Robinson. Preferring to work behind the scenes, King encouraged their efforts to increase voter registration, lobby for economic development in African-American communities and integrate Montgomery’s bus service. Following Parks’s historic act of civil disobedience, King was reluctantly thrust into the spotlight after being drafted as the leader of what would become a yearlong bus boycott that set the stage for pitched civil-rights battles throughout the South. Weaving newspaper clippings, city archives and interviews with King’s colleagues and congregants, Jackson richly renders a city on the brink and the residents that pushed it over the edge. The author’s comprehensive analysis of King’s sermons before, during and after the boycott artfully depicts a man in transition, from naïve do-gooder to world-changer. Jackson’s treatment of Montgomery in the post-boycott era offers new insight into the void in leadership and the fractious infighting among the movement’s luminaries after King departed the scene.
An informed investigation of the struggles that defined a time and place—and the man who gave them a voice.