Marshall Frady, the reporter who became the unofficial chronicler of the civil rights movement, here re-creates the life and turbulent times of its inspirational leader. Deftly interweaving the story of King’s quest with a history of the African American struggle for equality, Frady offers fascinating insights into his subject’s magnetic character, with its mixture of piety and ambition. He explores the complexities of King’s relationships with other civil rights leaders, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover, who conducted a relentless vendetta against him. The result is a biography that conveys not just the facts of King’s life but the power of his legacy.
When Dr. King made the cover as Time's Man of the Year in 1963, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover "snorted in a remark passed around the Bureau, 'They had to dig deep in the garbage for this one.'" It is details such as this that make this short biography of a much-written about subject both potent and illuminating. For the latest entry in the Penguin Lives series, Frady (Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson) has produced a sharp, politically insightful, emotionally astute and psychologically complex portrait of a man whose complicated life and work is often reduced to simplistic hagiography. While this biography uses a standard chronological narrative as its spine, Frady constantly reframes facts and their accepted meanings with new information that gives readers fresh, often startling interpretations, or reminds us of facts that have slipped to the periphery (Rosa Parks was not simply a woman who refused to change her seat on the bus, but an active member of the NAACP who knew the political implications of her act). Never shying away from controversial topics, such as King's deep rage against the U.S. war in Vietnam or the plagiarized portions of his writing, Frady also perceptively analyzes how King's political strategizing emerged from his often conflicted emotional needs many of his bold, decisive gains for the civil rights movement were predicated on a Clintonian need for contact and adulation, according to the author. Yet Frady's sensitive, succinct presentation never lets King's foibles obscure his tremendous contributions to American life.