Politics & EconomyBiography & MemoirHistoryUnited States History20th Century HistoryPolitical Biography & Memoir
In the second volume of his three-part history, a monumental trilogy that began with Parting the Waters, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, Taylor Branch portrays the Civil Rights Movement at its zenith, recounting the climactic struggles as they commanded the national stage.
Topics: Race Relations
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The second volume in Taylor Branch's award-winning trilogy about the Civil Rights era covers the muddled years between 1963 and 1965, focusing specifically on Malcolm X, the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964, and Martin Luther King's receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. From these topics, it becomes clear that the narrative is chronologically muddled as the narrative is more thematic than Branch's first volume, Parting the Waters.If the story is more complex (and if perhaps, Branch seems less clear on its narrative arc), the book again demonstrates Branch's extensive research and fine writing in his epic endeavor. While the first volume significantly explored the Black church's role in shaping the Civil Rights movement, the underlying narrative in Pillar of Fire is the tension between various Civil Rights groups, especially King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the tension between Black Muslims in the United States, personified by Malcolm X in his split from the Nation of Islam.If King himself were the heart of the first volume in the trilogy (and is again in the third), it seems that long-time SNCC worker Bob Moses is the heart of Pillar of Fire. The enigmatic Harvard graduate, who began working on voter registration in Mississippi in 1961, seems to be the quiet guiding force behind the student effort. From his long-time efforts, he is trusted by African-Americans in Mississippi of all classes and he is respected by the other students in SNCC because he's been active longer than they have. As a result, Moses seems to try to balance the tensions within the Mississippi Freedom Summer, between Black and White volunteers, between local voter registration and national legislation, between local efforts and national political efforts (like trying to seat alternative delegates to the 1964 Democratic National Convention). In the end, Moses also becomes a martyr to the cause, not because he is killed, but because he simply quits, changes his name and his attitudes (for a while, he refused to speak with any Whites), and moves to Africa for years.King seems a conflicted presence in this book, unsure of how to proceed. Even though there are peaks for King in these years -- the passage of the Civil Rights Act and his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize -- it is also a period of indecision. He seems unclear where to focus his energies, and he seems unclear how, or even whether, to capitalize on his growing reputation. King is an increasing target. The FBI, and J. Edgar Hoover in particular, become more aggressive in their anti-King tactics in these years, leading to increased negative newspaper coverage. Other Black leaders also try to nudge King from the spotlight, most notably Malcolm X, but even some other leaders within the SCLC and SNCC.This is yet another fine work, and stands nobly beside the first volume in the series. Even if Branch seems a little unsure of how to find an overarching narrative structure for these nebulous years, the work is full of great insight and superb narrative history.more
this book in conjunction with Parting the Waters left me feeling like i relived the decades (which is how long it took me to read them). i never got to the 3rd, but the two were strong and provoking. theyre something you carry with you, as cliche as that is to write.more