Taylor Branchs approach to writing the history of civil rights movements in the modern world is very effective. From Branchs perspective, the history which most think they are familiar with becomes sharper. Branchs work is based on a multi-volume book that gives a detailed account of the history of civil rights movements with a special focus on Martin Luther King Junior. Through extensive scholarly research, Branch collects information about the history of civil rights movements during the time that Martin Luther King Junior was an activist. The history spans from the beginning of the movement in the early 1950s in Selma to the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 in a motel in Memphis. On the introduction part, Branch describes himself as an outsider to the history (Branch 8). As he was growing up, the great events that shaped the history of civil rights were happening at a distance, but he was nevertheless inspired by the passion and achievements of the movement making the study of the movement a focus in his life. The King Years by Taylor Branch is, therefore, a summary of the themes that encompass the movements sweep and there are a few shortcomings that limit the effectiveness of the book in passing its central theme across.
The book explains the concepts of civil rights movements. Branch talks about familiar and old territory without introducing new ideas and points of approach. For those that are beginning to learn about the history of civil rights movements notably, the book is invaluable. Branch writes about events that happened in a manner that makes them appear shocking whereas those that were present during those events may not find them surprising. An example of such an event is the Birmingham church bombings.
Branchs focus is primarily on the most significant themes and events in the history of civil rights movements. However, some aspects of the account limit the flow of the narrative specifically on the transition between the chapter concerning the 1964 party realignment and Martin Luther King was treated by Hoover. Mississippis Negro Democrats being forcefully removed from the Democratic Party convention; is an entirely different story from Hoover targeting a particular individual and the themes linking the two are far-fetched. The impact of this is that an essential and compelling story is cut short and an entirely different story with a similar magnitude of importance introduced, thereby, hindering the flow of the narrative.
Among the uses of Taylor Branchs The King Years, is it introduces one to the history of this dynamic period, it serves properly, and can evoke questions from amateur scholars and students of history that may necessitate in-depth research and study. For instance, if a toddler wishes to know more about civil rights movements, The King Years would be a book of choice. However, for the in-depth understanding of topics mentioned in the book such as the Birmingham church bombing, one has to use other materials that give a more detailed account of the tragic event. An area of merit of the book is that it effectively introduces the several events and players of a dynamic movement.
Branch highlights the significant themes addressed by King in the fight for equal rights. He says Martin Luther was a leader for every American on the values we have professed ourselves (Branch 20). In 1965, Voting Rights Act became law in South Central Los Angeles, California. Five days after the passing of this law, riots broke out in the area. The provocation for this was poor living conditions and police brutality. King condemned the violence but maintained that the cause was valid. After the successes in Selma and Watts, King turned his attention to Western and Northern cities where there was still racial tension, unlike the South. King and his family moved to Chicago in February 1996. In Chicago, he led protests against discrimination and poverty and in unemployment and housing. He insisted that the only solution to this problem of discrimination was for the African-American to decent jobs and homes. At some point, there were disagreements between the different civil rights organizations based on policies and the choice of the spokesperson. Tactics which were successful in the South proved ineffective in the North. Most of Kings and other organizations efforts to protest against the various aspects of discrimination were marred by the outbreak of riots and violence with little being gained where much had been invested. On Freedom Sunday, King addressed a crowd of about 45,000 people and pinned a list of grievances on the door of the city hall. He campaigned for the increase in funding of public schools, making affordable housing available, and support banks run by African-Americans. He was also vocal against the Vietnam War which had resulted in the death of a disproportionate number of African-American youths. Branch gives a straightforward account of the history of civil rights with a focus on King.
Finally, Branchs book is efficient in the introduction to the history of civil rights movement. It is appropriate in the study of History as a subject, but for in-depth review of some of the historical events, another source may have to be used. The shortcomings of the book are that it lacks a specific thematic emphasis and its brevity impacts on the efficient establishment of links between events and characters and the characterization of the different actors in history.
Branch, Taylor. The King Years. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2014,.
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