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Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, JR., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

4.28  ·  Rating Details ·  1,363 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Based on more than 700 recorded conversations, including interviews with all of King's closest surviving associates, this is a powerful portrait of King and the movement for which he dedicated himself.
Paperback, 800 pages
Published January 6th 1999 by Harper Perennial (first published December 1st 1986)
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Tom Tabasco
Sep 16, 2012 Tom Tabasco rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
"Early morning, April 4th,
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky,
Free at last! They took your life,
They could not take your pride" (Bono, U2).

I learned so many things from this book. For example, that MLK was assassinated at 6 pm, so Bono got that wrong in his lyrics when he says "early morning". Then of course "pride" rhymes a bit with "life", so it worked in the song, but other than that, i believe it would be a poor choice to summarize the spirit of Martin Luther King with the word "pride".

Mikey B.
Dec 01, 2012 Mikey B. rated it it was amazing
A comprehensive biography of Martin Luther King Jr. He is obviously the most significant figure in the latter half of American history in the 20th century. Martin Luther King is the moral conscience of America bringing attention to its racism and its obsession with materialism. King always stressed and believed in non-violence. He was ignored by the Eisenhower administration and persecuted by the Kennedy’s.

It was Robert Kennedy who authorized the wire-taping of King’s residence and hotel rooms.
Jul 20, 2015 Leslie rated it really liked it
We went to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis in June 2015. It is located at the site of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. When you approach the museum, it looks eerily familiar. There in front of you is the motel with its vintage sign and outdoor walkways and parking spaces filled with vintage cars. People of a certain age might feel as if they had stepped back in time, right back into the famous photo of King's associates pointing to the location where the s ...more
Mar 30, 2014 Cliff rated it it was amazing
It's a bit difficult to know quite what to say about this book. It won the Pulitzer prize, undoubtedly because it was a very well chronicled and researched exploration of one of the most influential men of the 20th century in America, Martin Luther King, and probably the first real look at the man in such a format.

On one hand, this book lives up to what it promises. It is incredibly well documented and detailed, they had their research lined up perfectly. And it is about a great man during diff
Thomas Rush
Mar 01, 2015 Thomas Rush rated it it was amazing
Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the most fascinating human beings to have ever walked the face of the Earth. For 12 years of his life, he stood in the spotlight of public attention as a leader of The Civil Rights Movement. King, at first, was a reluctant leader, but at some point, he saw that the Movement was bigger than himself, that the whole Movement was destined to change society. King saw his role in the Movement as not unlike his Call to preach. King felt that God demanded his participa ...more
Sam Motes
Aug 24, 2013 Sam Motes rated it really liked it
An unflinching look at the life of man who embraced his destiny and lead his people through very turbulent times during their fight for dignity and respect. Garrow's work is very detailed and almost feels like a minute by minute account of the events of Martin Luther King Jr and the SCLC. The book did a great job of pointing out not only his strengths and courage but also his flaws as a man susceptible to the failings of the flesh. The epilogue points out that when we idolize our hero���s we mak ...more
Reid Mccormick
Oct 21, 2012 Reid Mccormick rated it it was amazing
This is the most comprehensive, articulate book I have ever found about Martin Luther King, Jr., the SCLC, and the Civil Rights Movement. Garrow does an amazing job detailing every aspect of the struggles of the Civil Right Movement. Every meeting, every conversation, every thought during these troubled times can be found in this book. You read about joys, trials, triumphs, and tragedies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and beyond.

It is astonishing how much I did not know about Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jan 16, 2013 Ryan rated it really liked it
Made me realize how shallow my knowledge of the civil rights movement and MLK's role was ... and most likely still is. Though it skims quickly over his youth and the indiscretions of his adult years, it's hard to imagine a more complete biography. In reading bios of Washington, MLK, and other icons I've realized that what I'm looking for are the dimensions that turn them from symbols into men, flawed and human in their greatness.
This book could become tedious, if it wasn't so good. The level of detail is astounding, and gives an almost minute by minute account of King's ascent from citizen to icon.

The good, the bad, and the ugly are all here, which is what is compelling about the story: These people weren't superheroes, they were ordinary folks. That did great things.

I can't recommend this enough.
Donna Davis

This comprehensive, scholarly yet accessible biography of Dr. King has already won the Pulitzer. Neither Net Galley nor Open Road Integrated Media really needs a review from me. Yet, because it is only now being released digitally, I saw the opportunity to read it free, and I leapt up hungrily and grabbed it while I could. But if you have to pay to read it, I will tell you right now, you will get your money’s worth and more.

The crossing of that bridge in Selma, Alabama was 50 years ago. You know
Mar 20, 2016 Sam rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This amazing book speaks for itself. It's only weakness may be in too much focus on the man rather than the movement because both are so incredibly interesting; flaws and all.

"Maybe something is wrong with our economic system the way it's presently going," King sug gested, noting that in democratic socialist societies such as Sweden there was no poverty, no unemployment, and no slums. "There comes a time when any system must be reevaluated," and America's time was at hand."

"More and more we have
Jun 28, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Bearing the Cross does two things extremely well: it provides an in-depth, honest account of MLK, Jr.’s life, and it chronicles the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s role in the 1960’s civil rights movement. The latter is what I found most interesting, and relevant to current events.

The SCLC, with Martin as its leader, formed, in a sense, as a response to Brown v. Board of Education. Brown represented a huge legal victory for the NAACP, but many black people weren’t experiencing any ta
Brian Ross
Feb 16, 2015 Brian Ross rated it liked it
I've been meaning to read this book for awhile, but was finally inspired to do so by seeing the film "Selma." This book is a comprehensive history of the civil rights struggle, particularly through the lens of MLK and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I would recommend it as a reference to anyone researching MLK, the civil rights movement, and the groups and organizations that comprised it. It is exhaustively researched and well written.

However, be aware that the author, who comes fr
Danny Aguilar
Jan 25, 2014 Danny Aguilar rated it it was amazing
In the Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, David J. Garrow gives an incredibly thorough account of the latter years of Dr. King’s life, and the development of the Black Freedom Movement from the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, to The Poor People’s Campaign and King’s death in 1968. Over 150 pages of notes and a bibliography, including several hundred interviews, exposition of several of King’s writings, a ...more
Apr 22, 2014 Judy rated it liked it
At 800 pages, this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography is a little intimidating (although 167 of those pages are extensive notes and the index), but it is very well-written and readable. I did find the level of detail a little much at times as I got lost in the minutiae of every meeting, march, and lecture King was involved in.

There is some information about King's childhood and college years, but the book really begins in 1955 with Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her seat and the resulting bus bo
Ann Olson
Feb 26, 2014 Ann Olson rated it liked it
This was a long book. And then I wrote a long review and it disappeared.

To summarize- Great book. Chapters Selma and the Chicago Housing Movement were my favorite. His speech on 513 about being so tired and marches being so beautiful was especially powerful to me. "Black is as beautiful as any color." Reading about the FBI and wiretappings and all that was so intriguing and got me so frustrated at points- is this what our tax dollars should really be paying for? he wasn't a "communist threat".
Jason Furman
Feb 03, 2015 Jason Furman rated it really liked it
A really detailed comprehensive history of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King Jr.--along with some biography of King interspersed. It is an immersive history that appears to include just about every meeting and phone call on these issues from the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) in 1955 to King's death in 1968. In some ways that serves a bigger purpose, removing the Civil Rights struggle from the temptation of Whig History to see it as a continuous march ...more
Jan 10, 2015 Dani rated it it was amazing
An extremely detailed biography of Martin Luther King. In some ways it was hard to follow - so many people involved in so many different places for so many different crusades, but worth the effort. However what speaks to you is how difficult MLK's situation was. He didn't pick to be the spokesperson for the movement, instead the movement picked him. It also failed him. Expecting more out of one person then could ever be possible. The internal feuding, constant financial problems, disagreements w ...more
Oct 07, 2011 Becca rated it liked it
Garrow has put very thorough research into this work. He began his research not long after King's death and the work was completed just 18 years after. Because of this he is able to conduct interviews with those closest to King. This 800 page work is a rather exhaustive history of King's life from 1955-1968 with major emphasis on his involvement in the SCLC. Because the format is chronological it is easy to get bogged down in the every day details of life and miss out on the big picture of King' ...more
Karen Masso
Sep 02, 2014 Karen Masso rated it really liked it
This is a super-detailed book on the facinating life of a man who shaped a nation.

I was surprised and encouraged by messiness of the story. The nation's injustices abounded. The civil rights movement was chock full of organizations who couldn't agree on things like strategy or use of money. There were ambitious people, turf issues and times when pride got in the way. MLK, Jr himself was a gifted, yet flawed man.

That is where the hope lies, in the humanity of the players. The movement leaders wh
Roxanne Russell
Jan 05, 2016 Roxanne Russell rated it liked it
Shelves: pulitzer-bio
This book is like a case study. A detailed account, moment by moment, of Martin Luther King Jr's involvement in the civil rights movement. When I say detailed, I mean detailed. Sentence by sentence, gesture by gesture, parliamentary motion by parliamentary motion, committee meeting by committee meeting, funding opportunity by funding opportunity. It must be an incredible textbook for courses on political activism.

The history we all mostly know is here in addition to revelations I had not encount
Jan 19, 2015 Allen rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, audio-book
I listened to the audio book of this while reading "Parting the Waters" concurrently, so I have to make sure I don't confuse them. This book is a single volume history/biography of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, and by compressing the events into one book it necessarily sacrifices some detail. It does a good job of covering King's life, I think, but it gives only a cursory treatment to the rest of the SCLC, and even less to the other simultaneous organizations.

If you want a o
Crystal Toller
Mar 20, 2016 Crystal Toller rated it it was amazing
Very good book. I was born in 1965 so don't remember much but thoroughly enjoyed this book. Author discusses Montgomery Bus Boycott and formation of SCLC. There are many details of the campaigns pursued by SCLC and all the different figures involved in the organization. One thing I learned that I was not aware of was the staff issues and disorganization of some of the SCLC campaigns. Good biography of King and details his issues with SCLC, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and the FBI. Really enjoyed this ...more
Aug 02, 2010 Chris rated it it was amazing
The depth and breadth at which the author covers is astounding considering that by far my view, as I expect is the case with so many others, is so simplified and narrow it's sad.

Truly eye-opening to see the humanity of Martin as well as a list of other views that no one seems to want to care about anymore. Unfortunately I want the book to be a little less comprehensive, but I would have been disappointed if this were the case...
Jan 07, 2009 Andres rated it it was amazing
It's truly amazing how much you don't know about someone so famous, so part of your generation historically. MLK jr's life had so many complicated and amazing passages in it that to remember him solely for one speech or the effort he put into the civil rights movement is a shame. This book thoughtfully went through the trials and jubilations that made up his whole life. Some of it good, some of it surprising.
Jan 26, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it
Incredibly detailed and fascinating. But has a very cold play-by-play analytical writing style. But an illuminating look at an amazing story, surprising in a lot of ways, how Martin Luther King Jr. stumbled into his role, rather than created it, the intense toll it took on him, his later depression. Weird how it ends exactly on Kings death and provides very few details about the aftermath and very few conclusions.

Why did I write this? Who knows.
A thorough biography of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, there is nothing really new here. Garrow begins with the Montgomery Bus Boycottw hich fist pushes MLK into the national spotlight and follows him until his death. It is almost too dense with facts and in need of more narrative. It chronicles every trip, speech and project Dr. King undertook which leaves very little room for anything else making it a rather dry read.
Laszlo de Simon
Dec 25, 2013 Laszlo de Simon rated it liked it
A wealth of detail provides a daily (seemingly by the hour) account of MLK from Montgomery's bus boycott to Memphis. Thankful for all the learning, yet the focus is so tight on MLK you are left with almost no lasting portrait of the many people around him (Coretta, Albernathy, to name a few), let alone any larger analysis from Garrow to explore further.

Above all: it is so very hard to lead change.
Kevin Hermosillo
Jan 25, 2015 Kevin Hermosillo rated it it was amazing
I recommend reading the epilogue first. It states what struck me early on in this book. Dr. King has reached mythical status which is a shame in some ways because his struggles and triumphs are glossed over by the "I have a dream" speech. His realization that the hidden racism in the north was as bad as the overt racism in the south was eye opening. Unfortunately, many of the issues he identified still exist today. I highly recommend this book.
Jane Thompson
Apr 08, 2015 Jane Thompson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was a fascinating rendition of a story we all think we know but it included so many details that I didn't know before. It also informed me about MLK's private life, which I didn't expect. It was rich in detail bit did not overwhelm the reader. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about the life of MLK and the times of the Civil Rights Revolution.
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David J. Garrow is Professor of Law & History and Distinguished Faculty Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
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“essence of nonviolence was a refusal to retaliate against evil, a refusal based on the realization that “the law of retaliation is the law of the multiplication of evil.” 1 likes
“the Negro must come to the point of refusing to cooperate with evil,” but without ever hating the evildoers. “I have no malice toward anyone, not even the white policeman who almost broke my arm, who choked and kicked me. Let there be no malice among you.” 1 likes
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