Parting the Waters: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement 1954-63
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Parting the Waters: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement 1954-63 (America in the King Years #1)

4.44 of 5 stars 4.44  ·  rating details  ·  3,008 ratings  ·  196 reviews
The first book of a formidable three-volume social history, Parting the Waters is more than just a biography of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the decade preceding his emergence as a national figure. Branch's thousand-page effort, which won the Pulitzer Prize as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction, profiles the key players and even...more
924 pages
Published 1990 by Papermac (first published January 1st 1988)
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Frank Stein
This is simply an unparalleled work of history that makes one appreciate and understand the civil rights movement in a way no other work can. It consistently astounds and amazes, which is itself impressive for a tale so often told.

To tell the truth, I've never been very interested in the "classical" civil rights movement, the one we read about in all the US history textbooks, from the Birmingham bus boycott of 1955 up through the march to Selma in 1965. I thought it was perhaps the most importan...more
Clif
I first read this book years ago and was so impressed that I put it on the shelf to read again. In the meantime, I discovered that this is only the first of three books Taylor Branch has written on the Civil Rights struggle and this time I intend to take them all in.

From any perspective, Parting of the Waters is a masterpiece. Branch doesn't let a person come into the story without a lively introduction including the character traits that will help the reader keep track of one person among so ma...more
Mikey B.
A monumental history of America and the Civil Rights movement. Superlatives abound! It is amazing how Mr. Branch can go from the top (King, Kennedy, Hoover) to people at the very roots of the Civil Rights movement (Rosa Parks, John Lewis, William Moore, Louis Allen…). The cast of characters who made things happen and broke down barriers is astonishing.

Dr. King is portrayed as a man of moral fibre who knew what was wrong and right in society and deeply tolerant of other people’s shortcomings – pa...more
Steve Horton
One of the reviewers echoed my feelings...this is probably the best non-fiction I have ever read. King is the axis of this brilliant but disturbing narrative, but the history of the US is skillfully interwoven. Although there were many uplifting portions of the story, what a sad commentary on us as a nation. What were the outrageous demands of the civil rights movement-opportunity and equality?

In what can easily be characterized as a battle of good vs. evil, Taylor takes us from the deep south,...more
Joel
Sep 22, 2007 Joel rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: history buffs, activists
Parting the Waters defines what a popular history should be: detailed, well-researched, and as readable as a novel. While the life of MLK is the fulcrum of the work, Branch delves deeply into into areas as diverse as the history of Dexter Avenue Baptist and power struggle between Bobby Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover. All this detail means that as Branch moves chronologically through the major events of the Civil Rights struggle, you feel like you have the context to understand exactly what these ev...more
Richard
Parting the Waters is about the civil rights movement of mid-20th century America. Branch indicates in his title that these late-1950, early 1960's years were properly "The King Years." Martin Luther King Jr. came of age and had his career path steered by the events that were taking place in America at that time, and in turn he became the single most influential figure shaping the manner in which the civil rights battles would be waged. The book is not therefore purely a biography of King, as mu...more
Donna
Did not dock a star for the 20 missing pages in the paperback edition I read. Accidents will happen. I missed some childhood. I enjoyed how smoothly this was written--the thing is huge, so it was nice bonus while I propped up the brick, that it was also a decent read. This is not always true with biographies.
The book is very detailed about the civil rights movement and the times in general. It's a triple biography that adds names, details and background to all that black and white footage I wat...more
Bill
Standing in front of the smoking ruins of the bombed dwelling lately occupied by your wife and newborn daughter before a seething mob crying out to avenge you is a powerful test of a man's character. On January 30, 1956, Martin Luther King's house was bombed during the Montgomery Bus Boycott; his wife Coretta and daughter Yolanda barely escaped the blast. After the bombing, the house was ringed by a thin line of white policemen in imminent fear of attack by a much larger African American crowd....more
Eliz
For sheer size and detail, it seems inarguable that Taylor Branch has written the definitive Civil Rights Movement history. This tome, which I hauled around with me for the better part of three weeks, is only a third of the series. In over 900-pages it covers the history of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the history of King's family in Atlanta and, most extensively, the crescendos and nadirs of the movement from Montgomery to the March on Washington and the assassination of President Kennedy.

Bra...more
Fritz
More a history of the times than a traditional biography, Parting the Waters is a fascinating telling of the American civil rights movement up to the time of JFK's assassination. There is a huge amount of material in just this first of three volumes, but the pace and flowing concision of Branch's writing makes it easy--maybe even necessary--to get through.

I've known of many of the history's major characters and events throughout my life, but I had no sense of how superficial that knowledge was....more
Ira
The book took me weeks to read through and at times I wasn't too happy about its (or my) slurring pace but when its all said and done - this book is great. The book is an almost day to day recounting of the uprising of the civil rights movement and begins with King as a young man. Branch captures Kings maturation as a leader as seen through the movement. There is also heavy room given to the competing leaders, preachers, etc in the movement as well as the Kennedy administration and the state and...more
Tia
This is the most epic, engrossing history book ever. It's pretty difficult to find a 1000-page book that's densely written but you nevertheless can't put down, but this book accomplishes that feat. It's the first in a trilogy about the Civil Rights Era, and would be a superior replacement for every history book I had to read from 6th grade on through high school. For most of us who sat through Texas history, MLK was reduced to his "I have a dream" speech, and the particulars of his strategic, me...more
David Bonesteel
Taylor Branch has written a magnificent history of the early civil rights movement, using the life and career of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a framework. Although there is a great deal of information about King's life both public and private, other key players in this great drama also receive extensive treatment. Some, such as John & Robert Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover, are well-known. Others have received far less recognition: Vernon Johns, the powerful itinerant country preacher who was a ki...more
Rick
The first volume in Taylor Branch’s magnificent three-volume biography of Martin Luther King, was first published in 1988, and read by me shortly thereafter. Then as they were released I read the second (Pillar of Fire, 1998) and third (At Canaan’s Edge, 2006) volumes. Parting the Waters won the Pulitzer Prize and the others have also deservedly won various honors because of the skill Branch brings as a writer, researcher and storyteller (in the finest sense of that word). He weaves a compelling...more
Neil White
When I started reading this book, I hadn't yet been hired to my current employer, Bush was still president, and there was no such thing as an iPhone. It was January of 2006, and the third volume of Taylor Branch's trilogy had just been released, piquing my curiosity enough to check out the first volume.

Six and a half years and a thousand massive textbook-sized pages later, I'm finally laying this massive tome to rest. It didn't take me this long because it was bad - quite the opposite - it was j...more
Pedsplace
This is one of the best nonfiction books that I have ever read. Easily deserving of a Pulitzer, Branch documents the early history of the Civil Rights movement in a thorough but incredibly engrossing style. His approach is nuanced and he does not create black and white characters. King is a flawed individual who nevertheless succeeds in rising to greatest, to a large extent, as a product of his times.

But after reading this book, one is thoroughly astounded and appalled at what life was like in...more
Patrick
Superb but long, even for me, who likes a lot of backstory and detail. The best section is on the creation of the "Letter from Birmingham Jail." After the last of this trilofy was published I read review that stated that Branch either didn't get the full story on all of the events covered or didn't incorporate all points of view on a lot of the most important matters. Given the length of each book it seems hard to belive that's the case, but I would like to hear from anyone who shares that criti...more
Glen Murrin
This an exceptional book. It describes in great detail one of the greatest accomplishments in American history - a people rising up to seize their right to participation in American life on equal terms with all other citizens. I does this with comprehensive detail and narrative drive. The leaders of this movement faced overwhelming obstacles, which they overcame through heroic actions. Though there are true heroes described here, Taylor Branch does not overly romanticize them. They were human be...more
Mari Stroud
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Branch writes all of the major historical players in one of the biggest movements in history in accessible prose, with volumes of context, and with very little editorialising of frequently flawed men and women. (Except for Hoover; he hates Hoover. Come on, though, if there was ever a person who deserved a hate-boner...) I especially loved the emphasis, so neglected in modern teachings of the Civil Rights Movement, on the *movement*. This was not a series of lucky...more
Alison Iris Mandelker-Burnett
So well-written that I cannot give up on this civil rights tome. At times it feels overdone, until you're recounting stories from the era like you were there. I have taken countless Civil Rights history classes in college and never even skimmed the surface of the complex characters, personalities, and politics that were playing out. I will one day get to the next one, but I need to read something light after this...although i cannot wait to read the next one eventually.
Adam
Apr 17, 2007 Adam rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Anyone interested in MLK or American History or Jesus or Non-Violence
Shelves: favorites
Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of my all time favorite people. I had read his autobiography but I really prefer this on over his. This book is part one of a three part series on the Civil Rights Movement, focusing on MLK's life. Taylor Branch builds a great sense of the narrative of the movement. The book is a little over 900 pages but it gives a good back story for each person involved. I am looking forward to reading the other two parts.
Thecowman32
Took me an entire summer to read, but well worth it. Life changing in the way it makes you view the civil rights movement, as well as the incredible bravery and horrors accompanying it.
Mary Ronan Drew
First-rate history of the civil rights movement. I've read it many years ago and have now re-read it very slowly on my Kindle.

In addition to the voter registration, sit-ins, bus boycott, and marches of the early civil rights movement, much of this first of three volumes involves the battle between J Edgar Hoover's FBI and the Kennedy White House. Bobby Kennedy devoted much time and energy to defeating organized crime before his brother was elected to the presidency, with enormous support from t...more
Roger
Wow! Finally finished this book. First part of a trilogy. Have already read Part 3 last summer. This book is a very extensive history of the early Martin Luther King, Jr. years and his struggles getting the Civil Rights Movement with non violence as the method of achieving the goal of stopping segregation. The books covers his family history, his training to be a minister and the history of Dexter Ave. Bapstist Church in Montgomery. He was a new young minister in Montgomery when Rosa Parks refus...more
Elliot
Medgar Evers. John F. Kennedy. Malcolm X. Martin Luther King. Robert Kennedy.

Though these names stand out in the histories, countless others whose stories haven't been adequately told were slain, assaulted, traumatized in defense of a freedom which should never have been in question. Even 50+ years since the "beginning" of the civil rights movement in 1955 -- a year stained by the murder of 14 year old Emmett Till and which held the birth of the Montgomery Improvement Association and its bus boy...more
Phyllis
I bought this book after seeing Taylor Branch speak here in Baltimore. It's been 25 years since this book was written and he is still incredibly passionate about the history of this period. The thing that stuck with me from the discussion was how important he feels it is for teenagers and even children to understand the critical role they played in turning the tide of the civil rights movement. When I got to chapter 20, "The Children's Miracle," I finally understood what he meant: a modern-day c...more
Bap
This book is astonishing. It tells us how far we have come since 1955 and the Montgomery bus boycott when millions of Blacks were invisible and powerless as a mater of law and in fact. The power they took and the rights they secured did not come cheap or without massive resistance and violence from the whites in the South which had closed ranks in opposition to desegregation. this was not just rednecks, it included the power structure, the elites who wre unwilling to cede Blacks an inch unless i...more
David Bates
Taylor Branch’s 1988 work Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963 is an authoritative narrative of the southern Civil Rights Movement focused on large organizations, their leaders, and key events. Based on numerous biographies, autobiographies and interviews, Branch’s account turns on relationships and personalities with a keen eye for how the experiences of the Movement shaped Martin Luther King, John and Robert Kennedy, John Doar, Bayard Rustin, Robert Moses and many others. S...more
Jacob
I found this on display at my library back for Black History Month and knew I had to read it. Formidable is right: this hefty book, 900+ pages, is both a biography of Martin Luther King, jr., and a near day-to-day history of the American Civil Rights Movement. The first of a trilogy, it chronicles King’s early life, culminating in his arrival at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery in 1954, the shaky start of the movement with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and follows King and others through...more
Peter
Parting the Waters, the first book Taylor Branch's history of the Civil Rights movement, is both more and less than a biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is more than a biography in that it covers all the conflicts involved with the Civil Rights movement during a a ten year period. Beyond just recalling the struggle between the protesters and the segregationists, this book chronicles inter-movement conflicts between the NAACP, SNCC, and King's own SCLC, political fights between the Kenne...more
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Taylor Branch (born January 14, 1947, in Atlanta, Georgia) is an American author and historian best known for his award-winning trilogy of books chronicling the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and some of the history of the American civil rights movement. The third and final volume of the 2,912-page trilogy — collectively called America in the King Years — was released in January 2006. Branch live...more
More about Taylor Branch...
Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68 The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With the President The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement

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