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Parting The Waters Essay

The book “Parting the Waters” by Taylor Branch not only highlights the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr. , but also shows the parallel course King’s life took with the civil rights movement and even before it. This book provides a historical look at the Civil Rights Movement from 1964 to 1963. The first half of the book shows the origins of the civil rights movement parallel to that of the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

Some of the significant points raised by branch were as follows: The “birth” of the black preacher, John Rockefeller’s endowment, King’s early education and the immediate cause of the civil rights movement. Following their emancipation from slavery, the African-American people’s journey to freedom has actually begun. Despite the complete abolition of slavery, segregation took its place as most whites, especially from the South, found it hard to accept former slaves as equals and still sought to marginalize the black people.

It was only in the church that blacks found leaders who were of strong character and would be the launch pad on their crusade for equality. As W. E. B. DuBois put it, the preacher is “the most unique personality developed by the Negro” (quoted in Branch 3). Next would be a footnote in the history of origins of the civil rights movement with the involvement of tycoon and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller whose involvement in the advancement of the African-Americans was attributed to his wife, Laura Spelman whose family were known abolitionists of the antebellum and civil war era.

Because of this, Rockefeller provided an endowment for the creation of a school for blacks which would be named after his wife’s family (Spelman College) in Atlanta, once the heart of the Confederacy. The significance of these two circumstances would be that Martin Luther King’s maternal grandfather, and his father were preachers and his maternal grandmother Jennie Parks and his mother Alberta were students of Spelman College, therefore, a beneficiary of Rockefeller’s philanthropy (Branch 30).

The education of his parents enabled the younger King to live a relatively comfortable life compared to other blacks who were not as fortunate as his family and lived in virtually a hand-to-mouth existence because segregation denied them the opportunities to better their lives. King’s education took him to Pennsylvania where he was exposed to liberal education that made him feel like an equal. He began his first public ministry at the age of 25, at the time the Supreme Court, the the Brown vs. Board ruling outlawed segregation in schools. But this was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The catalyst of the civil rights movement began when Rosa Parks, a seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat at the bus. This incident had prodded King to take the lead in the civil rights movement and thereby set the course he took which would irrevocably change his life (Branch 150). In the second half of the book. It covers the crusade Martin Luther King had now taken up and led following his political baptism of fire, from the twilight of the Eisenhower years , the advancement of John F, Kennedy and eventually the dawning of the New South.

Taking a leaf from Gandhi’s passive resistance approach, King endured sufferings and humiliations yet he took it in stride in the same manner as Christ and persevered. Under such conditions the U. S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which ensures that all people born in the United States are accorded equal protection law and that race could not be used as a condition to deprive them of their civil rights (Branch 303).

All in all, Parting the Waters proved to be an excellent start in the 3-volume history of the civil rights movement by Branch who would follow it up with “Pillar of Fire” and “At Canaan’s Edge. ” One would notice that the titles allude to the history of the Hebrews as told in the book of Exodus in the Bible. Branch was somehow able to draw a parallelism of the odyssey of the Hebrews to that of the African-Americans on their quest for real freedom and equality. Works Cited Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters. America in the King Years: 1954-63. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.


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