At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68

At Canaan's Edge concludes America in the King Years, a three-volume history that will endure as a masterpiece of storytelling on American race, violence, and democracy. Pulitzer Prize-winner and bestselling author Taylor Branch makes clear in this magisterial account of the civil rights movement that Martin Luther King, Jr., earned a place next to James Madison and Abraham Lincoln in the pantheon of American history.
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Taylor Branch
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Publication Date:
09 Jan 2007
  • B Corp
  • Black Owned
  • Gives Back
  • Veteran Owned
I've never bought into conspiracy theories, including about King's or JFK's murders. But Taylor Branch, without saying so himself, lays out facts that lead me to believe Jame Earl Ray didn't act alone. Call me crazy but

1. King's travel schedule in the last weeks of his life was unpredictable to the average person, which would include your run-of-the-mill Klansman/white supremacist. It would have been impossible for a for the average person to track him unless . . .

2. His assassin was fed up-to-date details from surveillance. And, King WAS being tracked/wiretapped by the FBI.

3. Ray might have been racist, but racism never seemed to be his motivation for anything--money was his motivation and he was a professional thief and robber. I doubt he would have killed King for hate or opposition to civil rights. He might have done for pay though.
A really excellent trilogy of books. With this concluding volume I felt there was more to explore with MLK’s shifting philosophies near the end of his life. David Garrow’s biography covers them more in depth. But this book is great for going through the intertwined protest movements of Civil Rights and Vietnam.
Provides a great behind the scenes look at the Civil Rights movement which most Americans are unaware of. However, one should read Mr. Branch's Parting of the Waters and Pillar of Fire before reading At Caanan's Edge. They are a great trilogy of America, and the Civil Rights era, during a turbulent time in our nations history.
This one is somewhat downbeat. This seems like a ridiculous statement if one thinks about how the events of Birmingham or the assassination of Malcolm X are part of the previous books. This one is a difficult read, because Branch portrays the movement as one that falls apart. Riots get more coverage than non-violence, Vietnam escalates, King almost loses his sanity. There is many aspects in this book I had never heard about, for example the move to the cities, the attempt to create a movement in Chicago. As always Taylor Branch navigates nicely to hundreds of characters in ever-changing locations. It might not be as powerful as the first book of the series, but as a whole the body of work Taylor Branch has created is phenomenal.
A fitting conclusion to this massive trilogy. Branch is too generous to Johnson, and to the system of American politics + political economy in general, but this is still absolutely worth reading for the intricate details of movement-building, the tension between the movement and the larger forces at play in American politics, and the telescoping narrative from the riots of summer 1967 to the minute of the last 4 days of King’s life in the final section of the book.
great reading
From the Epilogue: "Like America's original Founders, those who marched for civil rights reduced power to human scale."

But my favorite quote may be from Stanley Levison. He gets the final say here after having been silenced by the FBI, amid power and fear run amok. Referring to King's assassination, he complained that most Americans already distorted the loss of "their plaster saint who was going to protect them from angry Negroes."
In the late 1960s, protestors blocked traffic (p. 93, 111) and conservatives complained about the political correctness (p. 339). More than this reminds of our contemporary politics in Taylor Branch’s hybrid Martin Luther King Jr. biography and civil rights history trilogy which concludes with this volume, At Canaan’s Edge, covering from Selma in 1965 to King’s death in 1968.

Through all the challenges he faced, King showed steadfast belief in the principle of nonviolence to create constructive change, even when it began to fall out of fashion with the rise of the black power movement. He determined also to look beyond racial injustice, even when it seemed politically unwise, such as breaking openly with President Johnson on Vietnam or building an intersectional Poor People’s Campaign to demand federal action on poverty.

The nation would do well to recall the expensive scope of King’s vision (beyond the few lines of his “I Have a Dream” speech typically remembered) on racial and economic justice and war and peace.
Monumental and indispensable. In the last volume of the trilogy, the civil rights movement splinters over non-violence coupled with the mounting horror of the Vietnam War. As a reader who came of age in this period, Branch's week by week account of the last three years of Martin Luther King's life was a sober reminder that despite everything, our current national catastrophe is not the worst in our recent history. Branch limns all of the major figures of the era, from Lyndon Johnson's mounting agony to Stokely Carmichael's mounting rage. Dr. King stays at the heart of the narrative as he is buffeted by forces that often seem beyond his control as he struggles to maintain his commitment to both the Movement and non-violence. There are also names that have been largely lost, martyrs to the cause like Viola Liuzzo, Vernon Dahmer and Jonathan Daniels. These and a host of others --- so many more than one remembers --- gave their lives in the continuing struggle to make the United States live up to its founding ideals.

The spare description of the moment King died is unbearable.

Highly, highly recommend.
Finally finished the third book in the Branch civil rights trilogy. I don't think I have ever read such extensive well-researched books. We all know the major players in the movement but these books not only delve deep into them (warts and all) but also bring to the forefront so many people that history has forgotten or relegated to no more than a footnote. These books are a major time commitment, but well worth it. I was not yet born or just a kid during the timeframe the first two books covered, but I remember much of what took place in this final installment. Moving, tragic, yet also full of hope. Not unsimilar to where we find ourselves today. I highly recommend these books.
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