Book Report: Bearing the Cross

Bearing the Cross: Bio about MLK

Bearing the Cross by David J. Garrow is the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning bio of Martin Luther King. It is a rather amazing text that gives the detailed history of Dr. King that is detailed to the point of each week of his life working toward each hour of his day as we march inexorably toward his final hours.

The themes of the text truthfully reflect the messages that drove this intelligent, burdened man. He stood resolute against a world that preferred order to justice. The book is neither artful nor clever. It is resolute: Each word necessary additions to the paragraphs and pages that all collect to a full and far too short summary of a man.

Throughout the text one can see Dr. King’s penumbra still visible around each person in his life. The voice that this book carries is weighted by the dozens of people the author interviewed about King and the richness of the response that each had about this significant man. His message, his desire, his integrity, his weakness each evident and challenging the reader.

Much of the book is derived from the thousands of documents that the FBI amassed illegally through the near-constant surveillance by J. Edgar Hoover’s over-reaching, paranoid troops. It is sad and disturbing that the most detailed diarists in his life were the mocking and suited men with earphones recording his conversations to use against him.

Through every chapter one sees a man pulled by a strong cord toward his destiny. A man who was not heroic but who was cast by his God as a hero. A man who had failings and commonnesses apparent to all who knew him, yet still he was molded to become what he had to be. This is the “destiny” part of his life that is hard to deny when reading the text. Interestingly he was not put up on a pedestal by those who knew him best neither before nor after his death. But at the same time it was clear that he was not like you and me. He seemed to follow his call against his wishes and in reading this book one hears the unspoken words “let this cup pass from me.”

I don’t know much more than the average person about Dr. King and the civil rights movement, and was not a giant fan of King, but in reading this book I was wholly moved by his life and convinced that he was cast to be what he came to be. From his unwillingness to amass personal property (much to his family’s dismay); to his becoming one of the youngest recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize (whose honor and cash prize he deflected to his organization, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC); to being Time’s Man of the Year; to his appetites ; to his sense of humor—he was not a carefully packaged commodity, nor a televangelist. This book shows him as an everyman, if everyman had an unswerving call to justice over order; to equity over peace; to what things could be over what things tend to be.

This text gives the reader a three dimensional vision of and three dimensional man. He was not hero but he was heroic.

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