Martin Luther King - Godfrey Hodgson
THE election last year of Barack Obama as president of the US could not have happened without the courageous exploits of civil rights campaigners like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the 1960s. Less than 50 years ago there was segregation in the south
THE election last year of Barack Obama as president of the US could not have happened without the courageous exploits of civil rights campaigners like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the 1960s.
Less than 50 years ago there was segregation in the southern states of America - black people could not use the same hotels, diners, public toilets, swimming pools and other public amenities as whites. Most were not even allowed to vote.
Martin Luther King Jr became the leader of the fight for racial equality in the south, mainly through his brilliant oratory. He forced the country to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and amid speculation he may stand for election as president or vice-president on a platform of fighting poverty (both black and white), he was assassinated in 1968.
Obama's success, and his impressive public speaking, has renewed interest in King's role as a prophet for political change. Godfrey Hodgson traces his life and career in Martin Luther King (�20, Quercus).
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Hodgson, a TV and newspaper journalist in Britain and the US, sheds light on every aspect of an extraordinary life - his Christian faith, his physical and moral courage, his imprisonments, his campaigns and speeches, and his repeated sexual infidelities.
He looks at the failures as well as the successes, and the divisions which erupted in the civil rights movement as younger campaigners felt progress was moving too slowly and how they became frustrated at non-violent protesters being beaten and imprisoned, even murdered.
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King always insisted on non-violent protests, arguing that it was futile for a minority, which numbered just 10 per cent of the population, to turn to violence when the majority had access to the weapons.
Hodgson also argues that reaction against his campaigns strengthened a conservative backlash against the liberal ideology of the Kennedy-Johnson era.
He says that without him there may not have been President Nixon or Reagan.
But, neither would it have been possible for a black American to become president within a generation.
- LINDSAY JONES