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Cover image for Parting the waters : America in the King years, 1954-1963
Parting the waters : America in the King years, 1954-1963
Publication Information:
New York : Simon and Schuster, c1988.
Physical Description:
1064 p. : photographs.
General Note:
Includes index.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 973 BRA 1 1

On Order



Hailed as the most masterful story ever told of the American civil rights movement, Parting the Waters is destined to endure for generations. Moving from the fiery political baptism of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the corridors of Camelot where the Kennedy brothers weighed demands for justice against the deceptions of J. Edgar Hoover, here is a vivid tapestry of America, torn and finally transformed by a revolutionary struggle unequaled since the Civil War. Taylor Branch provides an unsurpassed portrait of King's rise to greatness and illuminates the stunning courage and private conflict, the deals, maneuvers, betrayals, and rivalries that determined history behind closed doors, at boycotts and sit-ins, on bloody freedom rides, and through siege and murder. Epic in scope and impact, Branch's chronicle definitively captures one of the nation's most crucial passages.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Pacifist theologian Reinhold Niebuhr influenced Martin Luther King Jr. more deeply than did Gandhi, according to Branch, whose 880-page chronicle shows the civil rights leader taking Billy Graham's evangelist crusades as his model for organizing mass meetings to attack segregation. Epic in scope, often startling in its judgments and revelations, this gripping narrative mingles biography and history as it moves from the founding in 1867 of the First Baptist Church in Alabama, where King's movement took hold, to John Kennedy's assassination. Branch, journalist and coauthor of Second Wind , provides disturbing glimpses of John Kennedy wavering over integration while manipulating King, and of Robert Kennedy, who authorized FBI wiretaps on King's home and offices. Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin and other leaders are also here, though King holds center-stage for most of the narrative. This stirring, vivid tapestry is the first volume in Branch's America in the King Years. First serial to Washington Post Magazine; BOMC segmented main selection. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

In the first of a planned two-volume history of the civil rights movement, Branch uses the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., as a paradigm for the experience of an entire group: by focusing on King's career, the struggle for equality among blacks after World War II can be understood in its fullest terms. Into the story of King, the author also weaves the stories of other individuals who had impact on the civil rights movement in its early stages, from black preacher Vernon Johns to presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. All in the most personal of contexts, Branch evokes what motivated people in the movement to act, what their actions exacted from them, what rewards they reaped. A stimulating overview of what Branch considers an exalted era. Book-of-the-Month Club main selection; first serial rights sold to Washington Post Magazine. Notes, bibliography; to be indexed. BH.

Choice Review

Branch's celebrated study of the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr. comes close to meriting the widespread accolades it has garnered. This massive work, covering King and the Civil Rights Movement through the 1963 Kennedy assassination, blends superb scholarship, capricious conjecture, and the brutal honesty of new disclosure with the inherent dishonesty of canonizing King at the expense of tens of thousands of courageous local volunteers. Branch is brilliant on King as pastor and as theologian. He offers invaluable new insights into King's bizarre persecution by the FBI, and his troubled relationships with Roy Wilkins and other movement dons. Accentuating their qualms over activism while downplaying a stronger aversion to bigots, Branch portrays JFK as an indecisive dilettante and brother Robert as an unprincipled whore. Frank in his portrayal of King, including his philandering and lapses in personal courage, Branch nonetheless contributes to a gathering mythology that must of necessity diminish rival leaders and intrepid local workers. Nevertheless, this book belongs in every public and academic library. -R. A. Fischer, University of Minnesota--Duluth

Kirkus Review

An affecting, wide-ranging evocation of a turbulent decade when the civil-rights movement launched its fiercely determined, largely nonviolent battle for America's social conscience and soul. A sometime magazine writer/editor with one novel (The Empire Blues, 1981) and a ghosted sports bio to his credit, Branch provides introductory perspectives on the Deep South's black churches--where the cause of desegregation was nurtured to the accompaniment of animating anthems, prayers, and sermons. In this first volume of a two-part work, though, he focuses on the period that began with Martin Luther King's 1954 arrival as pastor of Montgomery's upscale Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and ended with the 1963 assassination of JFK. In what he styles a narrative biographical history, the author recalls the economic boycotts, demonstrations, jailings, financial woes, judicial decisions, political maneuverings, internal dissensions, and vicious reactions that marked the early stages of blacks' first organized efforts to achieve equal rights in the face of entrenched racism. Cutting back and forth between the distinctly different worlds of black and white leaders, Branch provides warts-and-all portraits of those who played key roles in the long-running drama. King claims the heart of this account. But the author also profiles Ralph Abernathy, Harry Belafonte, J. Edgar Hoover, JFK and his brother Robert, Stanley Levinson, John Lewis, Robert Moses, George Wallace, and a host of other principals. Covered as well are less celebrated participants--including the estimable Septima Clark, who once reminded Andrew Young that it might be wise to share the lot of the hungry volunteers he recruited and bused about for confrontations with recalcitrant municipal authorities. Nor does Branch shrink from harsh judgments. At the close, for instance, he reports without disputing King's belief that Kennedy's death was a blessing for the civil-rights campaign, which might otherwise have stalled. In brief, then, a vivid, panoramic text that documents in telling detail the roots of an epic, many-splendored cause. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

S. & S. 1988. 1064p. bibliog. index. ISBN 0-671-46097-8. $24.95. hist An epic of black civil rights in postwar America centered on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Branch's narrative reaches back to King's forerunners in the Montgomery pulpit from which he led the 1955 bus boycott, then weaves in and out of King's path through the freedom rides, Ole Miss, Albany, Birmingham, and other episodes of the movement, closing this first of two volumes in November 1963. A graceful display of both the ironies and majesties of the past, it traces the historical axis joining the Kennedys' Washington to King's world of the black church and the Deep South. A tour de force of research and synthesis, richer than any extant King biography or civil rights history, this will be the measure of all books to come. BOMC main selection; see LJ' s ``Best Books of 1988,'' p. 42. Robert F. Nardini, North Chichester, N.H. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
1. Forerunner: Vernon Johnsp. 1
2. Rockefeller and Ebenezerp. 27
3. Niebuhr and the Pool Tablesp. 69
4. First Trombonep. 105
5. The Montgomery Bus Boycottp. 143
6. A Taste of the Worldp. 206
7. The Quickeningp. 272
8. Shades of Politicsp. 312
9. A Pawn of Historyp. 351
10. The Kennedy Transitionp. 379
11. Baptism on Wheelsp. 412
12. The Summer of Freedom Ridesp. 451
13. Moses in McComb, King in Kansas Cityp. 492
14. Almost Christmas in Albanyp. 524
15. Hoover's Triangle and King's Machinep. 562
16. The Fireman's Last Reprievep. 601
17. The Fall of Ole Missp. 633
18. To Birminghamp. 673
19. Greenwood and Birmingham Jailp. 708
20. The Children's Miraclep. 756
21. Firestormp. 803
22. The March on Washingtonp. 846
23. Crossing Over: Nightmares and Dreamsp. 888
Acknowledgmentsp. 923
Abbreviations used in Source Notesp. 925
Notesp. 927
Major Works Cited in Notesp. 1005
Indexp. 1011
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