Starting in late February my husband and I attended a conference at Seattle University called "Search for Meaning" where we sat in on a session with Dr. Rev. William Barber and Taylor Branch. William Barber is a fiery pastor and past president of the North Carolina NAACP. He recently launched Moral Monday events, following in the footsteps of MLK. He wants us to continue the Poor People's Campaign launched right before MLK was assassinated in 1968. Taylor Branch is a historian and author who has written a three-volume set of books about the Civil Rights Movement weighing in at over 2000 pages in length. I purchased and he signed his summary book, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement, which is only 190 pages long. By the end of the session my head was swirling with new facts and a flame was rekindled inside me to do more to fight injustice in our country and world.
Several books later I picked up a middle grade/picture book, Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney.
In a rich embroidery of visions, musical cadence, and deep emotion, Andrea and Brian Pinkney convey the final months of Martin Luther King's life -- and of his assassination -- through metaphor, spirituality, and multilayers of meaning. Andrea's stunning poetic requiem, illustrated with Brian's lyrical and colorful artwork, brings a fresh perspective to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life. And even in his death, he continues to transform and inspire all of us who share his dream.I was tremendously moved by the poems and the illustrations. I also realized, as I read them, that I knew very little about the last few months of King's life and the circumstances surrounding his death. I was just eleven when he was killed and my family didn't live in the United States at the time, so I didn't see any news coverage of the events. Later, in high school, I opted to take a government rather than a US history class, because of this I have a lot of holes in my own knowledge of US History, including the Civil Rights Movement. Reading this book---about the Sanitation Worker's strike, about King's final speech, about his assassination, about his wife's decision to march in his stead---inspired me to learn more.
When the student is ready, the teacher appears. For me it came in the form of the Classic Club Spin event. Participants list twenty classic books, when the number was spun, I looked at my list and saw that it landed on Kindred by Octavia Butler. Butler, known mostly as a Sci-Fi writer, penned Kindred in 1979. The main character, Dana, a black woman married to a white man, time-travels back to 1820s Maryland, where she meets her ancestors---a black slave woman and a white slave-owner man, Rufus Weylin. Over and over she is "called upon" to save Rufus' life and has to time-travel to do it. The problem, of course, is she is black and Maryland is a slave state. Every time she travels back in time, Dana is trapped, for up to several months, as a slave herself. She learns first hand how easy it is to entrap another person and why people submitted to slavery. The book was very disturbing yet also enlightening about the "peculiar institution" of slavery and how the foundations of our country were built on it, a fact we cannot deny, but one we must strive to correct and make amends where we can. I highly recommend the book.
“Being on the right side of history isn’t always popular. And it isn’t always easy,” Obama said to Lewis. “You don’t know when things are going to break your way. You don’t know whether your labors will deliver.”I am very inspired by Lewis and having read the three part graphic novels at an earlier date, I can recommend them without any hesitations. Lewis found his way to the Civil Rights Movement through a comic book about Martin Luther King, Jr. He decided that he wanted his biography to be in that same format. My husband has just finished March and took book two with him to work today hoping he has time to finish it during lunch time. The title is so perfect since so many of the big events in the Civil Rights Movement involved marching. Martin Luther King said that marching for civil rights was like praying with his feet.
“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something, to say something. Dr. King inspired us to do just that,” Lewis replied.
A few weeks ago a blogging friend posted a list of YA books published in 2018 which have several starred reviews and have already received critical acclaim.. Martin Rising was on that list as well as two others which piqued my interest: Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Tonya Bolden and Chasing King's Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Killer by James L. Swanson. I added both to my reading list and was surprised at how fast the library had them ready for me to pick up. I started the Douglass book first, for a purely silly reason---it was shorter---but read it with relish. Douglass was a true American hero who decried the twin monsters of darkness---slavery and racism---his whole life. The man was tireless. Once slavery was abolished, he moved on to supporting efforts to secure the vote for African-Americans (men), he supported other worthy causes, too, like women's suffrage, and equal pay for blacks and whites in the same job. In a lot of ways Frederick Douglass was the MLK of the nineteenth century, rallying people to support worthy causes mainly through his speeches and his many publications. The book is very readable and its target audience is young teens.
Crammed in between reading all these inspiring books about American heroes (Lincoln, Douglass, King), the effects of slavery, and the civil rights movement I started an audiobook of Sing, Unburied
As I started preparations to write this blog post, my mind still swirling with everything I have heard, read, and done in the past few months, I realized that I still wanted more information. I marched over to the book shelf and found The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement, where I had placed it, unopened, when we got home from "The Search for Meaning" conference in February. I opened to the introduction and started reading...
"Newer generations will find here the gist of a patriotic struggle in which the civil rights pioneers, like modern Founders, moved an inherited world of hierarchy and subjugation toward common citizenship Others can recall vivid triumph and tragedy at the heart of national purpose for the United States, whose enduring story is freedom. The unvarnished history should resist fearful tides to diminish that story. Above all, the King years should serve as a bracing reminder that citizens and leaders can work miracles together despite hardship, against great odds" (Branch 3).Just in case you missed it, or want to see if again. Here is the last speech made my Martin Luther King, Jr., the day before he was killed. Many say this was his very best. He gives everything of himself, almost like he pours out every drop of himself, so that after he finishes he collapses into the arms of his friend Ralph Abernathy, completely spent.
I didn't set out in 2018 with a goal to do themed reading on slavery, civil rights, and Martin Luther King, Jr. All of these books just seemed to find their way to me and asked to be considered together as a whole. I am not done searching for meaning and understanding. My hope is that this post will help guide you to do the same.
My reading list:
Bolden, Tonya. Facing Frederick: the Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2018.
Branch, Taylor. The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. Simon & Schuster, 2013.
Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. Beacon Press, 2003.
Lewis, John, et al. March: Book Three. Top Shelf Productions, 2016.
Lewis, John, et al. March: Book Two. Top Shelf Productions, 2014.
Lewis, John, et al. March. Top Shelf Productions, 2013.
Pinkney, Andrea Davis, and J. Brian Pinkney. Martin Rising: Requiem for a King. Scholastic Press, an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2018.
Saunders, George. Lincoln in the Bardo: a Novel. Random House, 2017.
Swanson, James L. Chasing King's Killer: the Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Assassin. Scholastic Press, 2018.
Ward, Jesmyn. Sing, Unburied, Sing. Simon & Schuster, 2017.