Mychael Eric Dyson has written an excellent antidote to the annual Martin Luther King Day speeches we hear every year, many of which make him out to be black Santa Claus. King has become a generic figure, an empty vessel into which all good wishes may be poured annually. We have forgotten that Dr. King was a threat to entrenched power in this country, and that his critique of American life was far-reaching and radical. Dyson does a good job of reminding readers of how much we’ve forgotten about this remarkable visionary prophet, and of how far we have to go to fulfill his vision. Having said that, Dyson did little if any primary research for this book; the sources are all familiar. Nor is he very careful in sorting them. The book is poorly edited. Sometimes Dyson is silly, unctious, pretentious or obtuse. There are whole chapters that could disappear without harming the book. He’s an approachable writer with a likable voice and good ideas, but hits too many false notes and frequently trips over his own ego. I repeat, this book needed a real editor. It’s worth reading, and much better than anything else Dyson has done; this project seemed to bring out his best work.
And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Autobiography (Hardcover)
by Ralph David Abernathy (Author)
When this first came out around 1990, stupid rumors abounded that Dr.King’s right-hand-man and surrogate brother had written a sleazy text about Dr. King’s sex life. This bunch of hogwash and the cruel responses by people who believed the hype drove Dr. Abernathy to his grave! This is actually a very good book filled with interesting anecdotes about Dr. Abernathy’s years as a soldier in the Civil Rights movement. However, he pulls no punches regarding the infighting that destroyed what was left of the movement after Dr. King’s death. This is an important historical memoir by one who was certainly there.
I’m so glad I read this book, but am sorry it took me more than a decade to learn that Dr. Abernathy hadn’t “sold out” Martin Luther King as was reported in the media when this book was first published. Unfortunately, Dr. Abernathy died before he knew all of black America hadn’t turned on him. He told a truthful story of a movement led by strong, yet very “human” men and women. None of us are without our weaknesses, but those weaknesses do not define the total of who we are. Just as Dr. Abernathy’s depiction of the weaknesses in himself and in Dr. King doesn’t define the whole tone of this book.
For those of you who want the full story of Dr. King – please read Taylor Branch’s trilogy (and tribute) – Parting The Waters, Pillar of Fire and At Cannan’s Edge – you won’t be sorry.