Monday, January 18, 2021

Leading with Light: Martin Luther King, Jr. by Jon M. Fishman

About 250,000 people gathered in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963. The huge crowd included different races, ages, and social classes. They were participating in the March for Jobs and Freedom.

King was noted for his ability to inspire with his words. Yet as his prepared speech went on, some felt it wasn't having much of an impact. Singer Mahalia Jackson called out to him. She told him to stop reading and speak from his heart.

That speech was, of course, the "I Have A Dream" speech that moved the crowd and the nation. Athough it was not a long speech, it had been a long time coming. Little Martin first experienced racial segregation when his friend, the son of the owner of the store across the street, told him that they couldn't be friends anymore because they were different colors and going to be starting to different schools. As the son of the pastor of a large church, Martin had been shielded from much of the racial discrimination in Atlanta. His well-educated mother taught him to read and play piano before he was school age, and yet when he needed new shoes, he learned that there were stores and plenty of other places where he could not go. Still, he was a brilliant student, beginning at Morehouse College at the age of fifteen, Crozier Theological Seminary, and graduate school at Boston University, where he was inspired by Thoreau and Gandhi's writings on passive dissent, earning advanced degrees with honors at each. Still, especially in the South, there were places he couldn't go and things he was not allowed to do.

One of those things black people were not allowed to do was sit in any seat on the bus, and when Rosa Parks attempted to integrate the public buses in Montgomery, Alabama, Martin King, now Reverend King, was drawn into the bus boycott. His house was bombed, his family threatened, but eventually the city relented and people were allowed to sit wherever they could find a seat. It was the first victory over public accommodations and soon King became a national leader in what came to be called the Civil Rights Movement. Over the next decade King participated in the Birmingham school desegregation campaign, beaten and arrested, resulting in his famous "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," the sit-ins for integration of public accommodations, the "I Have a Dream" speech in the Washington Mall, and his eventual assassination in Memphis by a white segregationist shooter.

Jon M. Fishman's recent Martin Luther King Jr.: Walking in the Light (Gateway Biographies) (Lerner Publications, 2019) covers this turbulent period in American history in a succinct but comprehensive account of Martin Luther King's short life and its effects on American history with fast-moving prose written for middle readers in need of materials meant to widen their understanding of their recent past. Illustrated with ample illustrations from the period, and with a supplemental appendix with a timeline, source notes and bibliography, further reading, websites, and detailed index. Perfect for January book reports and research report, this book in Lerner's dependable Gateway series, is a good choice for classroom and school and public libraries.

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