Friday, August 01, 2008

Listening to Dr. King

In the last few days, I've been "reading" a wonderful book, Michael Eric Dyson's April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Death and How It Changed America. Dyson examines Dr. King's musings on the all too likely prospect of his own assassination, how such thoughts formed the civil and human rights leader and how he flipped the implications of that prospect to empower his movement. The narrative is by turns eloquent, visionary, and substantive.

In the latter category, I particularly appreciated Dyson's quick statistical overview of the current condition of Black America in comparison to white America. I have not encountered such a sweeping, yet compact summary of shameful truths since Andrew Hacker's Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal. I also appreciated that Dyson called out what a blow to attainment of full African American equality the Clinton-facilitated trashing of the welfare safety net was. Subsequent misdeeds of right wing Republicans have given memories the 1990s a rosy tint. But in truth, for sheer unprincipled political betrayal of the interests of a core constituency, Bill Clinton set a miserable standard in the so-called "welfare reform."

Dyson then moves on to recount the history of charismatic African American leadership after King. He questions and applauds what that style has won for the people -- and wonders whether the United States is finally seeing something new in Senator Obama.

So why did I use the odd construction "reading" in the first paragraph of this notice? Because I "read" this book as an audiobook ( And I am sure this is the best way to read it. Dyson has made available a recording in his own voice. The author is so steeped Dr. King's speeches that he mimics the voice of his subject extremely well. A New York Times reviewer found merely hokey a fantasy interview Dyson describes with an imagined 80 year old Dr. King. In Dyson's oral delivery, this slightly strained exercise largely succeeds.

If you want to think about Dr. King, read this one as an audiobook!


Jane R said...

Thanks for the tip. I liked Dr. Dyson's previous book on King (I May Not Get There With You very much and have used parts of it in one of my courses (together with parts of Dr. James Cone's Martin and Malcolm and America so I must read this one!

I think my parents would be very much interested in this as well and my mother mostly "reads" audio books because her eyesight isn't what it used to be.

Jane R said...

Oops, sorry, I seem not to be closing parentheses today! Must have gotten so busy closing the html brackets I forgot the extra stroke. I usually press "preview" but didn't -- hasty on a Friday afternoon.

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