Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954 - 1963 Summary & Study Guide

Taylor Branch
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Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954 - 1963 Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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Parting the Waters is a historical look at the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 through 1963, with an emphasis on Martin Luther King Jr.'s role. Taylor Branch has given his readers a look at King the man, from his family history and childhood, to his role as a civil rights leader through the March on Washington. Branch includes in his tome a look at other organizations that sprang into existence, from King's work with both the MIA and the SCLC, as well as the work of other leaders who fashioned their techniques on King's past victories. Parting the Waters is an informative, insightful look at an important historical figure and an important piece of American history. It is sure to please even the most novice historian.

Before King came to Montgomery to take over the pulpit of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, there was Vernon Johns. Vernon Johns was an eccentric pastor who believed in never forgetting where he came from, thus traumatizing his congregation to such a degree that his third resignation, offered in anger, was accepted. Despite his controversial behavior, Johns paved a road that helped King step into his shoes and change Montgomery forever.

Before coming to Dexter, however, King was the middle child of an Atlanta preacher. Raised by an overbearing father who was determined to have his son follow in his footsteps, King rebelled through the first years of college, hoping to be a doctor rather than a pastor. However, King eventually saw where his strengths lay and chose to follow in his father's footsteps, though down a winding path. Much to his father's disappointment, King decided to further his career past college to attend a seminary, and later, to receive his PhD at Boston College. With his education concluded, King then took the pulpit of Dexter rather than sharing the pulpit of his father's church, Ebenezer Baptist.

While at Dexter, King happened to be in a good position to become leader of the bus boycott that resulted with the arrest of Rosa Parks. King ran the boycott through a newly formed organization called the Montgomery Improvement Association, or MIA, as its president. Through this, and by getting himself arrested for driving a car in the highly contested carpool, King found himself achieving national notoriety. When the boycott ended, King sought to continue the movement in similar ways, but found it difficult. However, a group of students soon took the problem out of his hands by beginning a series of lunch counter sit-ins across the south. This not only continued the nonviolent protests that King had begun in Montgomery, but resulted in the formation of the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, that would be a power organization in the Civil Rights Movement.

Once the lunch counter sit-ins began to slide from the headlines, and shortly after the election of John F. Kennedy to the White House, another organization got the idea to test a recent court ruling that stated that Negroes should, by the constitution, be allowed to use the same lunch counters and waiting areas as whites in bus stations while traveling as interstate passengers. A dozen protestors boarded two buses, one a Trailways and the other a Greyhound, and began a trek from the East Coast to New Orleans. The first few days of the trip proved uneventful as the Freedom Riders found little or no resistance at bus stops in the east. However, once the riders entered the south, they began to face trouble. The worst of the trouble began in Alabama. A bus was mobbed and then burned with Freedom Riders aboard, all of whom escaped with few injuries. The second bus pulled into the same depot and many of the riders suffered beatings.

The organizers were determined to continue, however. Another group went to Alabama to take over where their predecessors had been stopped and faced a mob in Birmingham. From there they were arrested and removed from town; but the determined riders returned. However, they faced a riot on their next attempt where a member of the Attorney General's office was attacked while attempting to help two female Freedom Riders. Several more groups of riders attempted to continue the trip to New Orleans; but so many were getting arrested in Mississippi for breaking segregation laws that the rides moved out of the headlines and became unproductive.

Through an agreement with the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, civil rights leaders switched their attention to mass voter registration of Negro voters. This movement hit resistance from the beginning. It resulted in murder, intimidation, and beatings throughout the south, especially in Mississippi where the movement had its strongest start. Organizers continued their fight despite resistance, however, while King struggled with his own problems.

King found himself losing the support of other civil rights leaders. First King was publicly humiliated by the president of the Baptist Convention who blamed him for a disastrous voter's campaign that culminated in the death of a pastor. King then lost the faith of the leaders of the SNCC after his insistence on getting out of jail quickly caused an unsatisfactory end to a movement in Albany, Georgia. King decided he no longer wanted to be the fireman, the celebrity called in to help with a demonstration. King wanted to plan and execute his own demonstrations, which led to the Birmingham campaign that would utilize the use of children in protest marches. King would win back the trust of other leaders and a major victory that would eventually lead to the March on Washington and the greatest speech of his career.

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