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

4.42 of 5 stars 4.42  ·  rating details  ·  4,256 ratings  ·  233 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
Paperback, 924 pages
Published 1990 by Papermac (first published January 1st 1988)
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Clif Hostetler
This book is the first of three volumes that comprise America in the King Years, a history of the civil rights movement by Taylor Branch which he wrote between 1982 and 2006. The three individual volumes have won a variety of awards, including the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for History. This book covers the history of the civil rights movement between the years of 1954 to 1963.

This book has over a thousand pages, so I need to confess that I listened to an abridged audio version that is about 6.5 hours
...more
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
judy
Part of the definitive trilogy on the Civil Rights movement. An incredible read--meticulously researched. It took him 23 years to complete it. Branch is white but a number of years ago I saw him on an MLK Day panel on BET. He was surrounded by black leaders from the movement whose names probably any informed person knows. What does that tell you about how the people who lived the events in this book think about Branch's version? The most amazing thing about this book is that you realize that MLK ...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
Harper
The first of three volumes about America in the king years all three are good but this first volume I found moved mr, challenged me and hopefully taught me lessons we could all use in these times. The courage of the first actors in the civil rights movement equals that shown by anyone in any age. It is hard for us to imagine today what changes were put in motion by simple acts of civil disobedience carried out peacefully even in the face of violent response the book explores the king years but i ...more
Jeni Enjaian
Some things are obvious about this book without even having to crack the cover, mainly the fact that it is quite long and will take quite a while to get through even for a fairly fast reader. (This is the reason that I am 5 books behind on my reading challenge.)

In no particular order, here are my thoughts about this book. First, Branch penned a smooth, well-flowing narrative that somehow spans multiple diverse and far-flung characters and events in such a manner that leaves very little confusion
...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
Joshunda Sanders
This is a beautifully written account of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King's development as a pastor, the Freedom Rides, the Albany Movement, SNCC, SCLC and all the horrors that were endured from Birmingham to Mississippi and beyond in the early 1960s. I considered it a must-read for several reasons; the main one is that my generation has no knowledge of people being hosed down or beaten or jailed for freedom and I wanted to read more from someone who knew the subject well. Taylor Br ...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.
Canadian 135
A tremendous history of the civil rights movement, focussed on Martin Luther King Jr. and the SCLC in the early years. Absolutely fascinating portrayal of the growth of the civil rights movement, the personalities of the leaders, the politics (interplay with President Kennedy/VP Johnson and Robert Kennedy fascinating).
What stays with me, though, is the incredible strength and bravery of those southern "negroes" who fought for their freedom - the violence associated with integrating lunch counter
...more
Joyce Lagow
Utterly superb-- a must-read book for those who are interested in the real history of the era and the people who figured prominently in the Civl Rights struggle. Fascinating portraits of King, Abernathy, the Kennedys, Hoover, Wilkins and other lesser-known participants.
Josh Muhlenkamp
This is the first of three books on the Civil Rights movement by Taylor Branch, and it is a magisterial opening. I've never really understood the motivations and the difficulties of those who courageously fought for their freedom...without fighting. Nor have I ever felt any kind of sympathy for the movement. Not because I was racist, but because it was never alive for me.

In school, whenever we talked about the movement, it was always a dry collection of people and events - MLK, Rosa Parks, the M
...more
Phana
The first book I ever read that seduced me with detail. I would run home from work just to read MLK's shopping list from some day in 1958. I consider this more of a book of biography than history, and not just MLK's biography. Branch highlights some of the interplay between a personality and social pressure. And what pressure, existential pressure (and I don't mean the philosophical kind, I mean the existence kind)! Several of the personalities are "out there" which makes me wonder if revolution ...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...

Other Books in the Series

America in the King Years (3 books)
  • Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65
  • At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68
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 King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA

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