Taylor Branch

If you have some time today, I found James Fallows’ interview of Taylor Branch, Martin Luther King’s biographer, fascinating. He’s just released a book that picks out 18 key moments from his three-volume King biography, and it’s also been released in an e-book edition that includes audio and video content for each of those events. He traces the current Tea Party anti-government rhetoric back to the segregationist politicians of King’s era, talks about LBJ getting short shrift, especially about his reformation of the Democratic party and the kind of political courage it took to do that, and also a bit about college sports.

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22 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    talks about LBJ getting short shrift, especially about his reformation of the Democratic party and the kind of political courage it took to do that,

    I just finished Caro’s latest on LBJ, and, not surprisingly, that was his sentiment as well when it came to civil rights.

  2. 2
    Elizabelle says:

    Wow. Thanks. I hadn’t seen.

    Gary Wills has an essay up on “Dumb America.”

    Why yes, it deals with the South.

  3. 3
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    The people who would give credit to LBJ for civil rights are largely the same group who, rightly, excoriate him for escalation in Vietnam.

  4. 4
    Mark S. says:

    LBJ getting short shrift

    Something starting with the letter V . . .

  5. 5
    NotMax says:

    Still recall how visually shocking it was at the time to see pix of LBJ in retirement, with long hair grown down nearly to his shoulders.

  6. 6
    Brian R. says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    No, it’s possible to praise LBJ for the very significant work he did on Civil Rights — putting real teeth in JFK’s moderate civil rights bill and ramrodding it through Congress, pushing through the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, working closely with King, Farmer and others (which they themselves acknowledged was key) — and at the same time blame him for the escalation in Vietnam.

    It’s called not being a moron.

  7. 7
    Linda Featheringill says:

    Amazon has a good price for Mr. Branch’s new book, The King Years. Kindle version is 11.00 and actual book is not much more. So this is presently on my wish list.

    It looks interesting. Book Club?

  8. 8
    rikyrah says:

    I shall look up the ebook.

  9. 9
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Brian R.: My point was that he will never be well regarded. One can argue whether VN outweighs civil rights or the other way around, but Johnson’s legacy includes both.

  10. 10
    PeakVT says:

    @Elizabelle: Wills had one too many mint juleps before writing that one.

  11. 11
    Napoleon says:


    I just finished Caro’s latest on LBJ, and, not surprisingly, that was his sentiment as well when it came to civil rights.

    As did I, last night in fact.

  12. 12
    Brian R. says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Well, that’s my point too. Sorry for misunderstanding you completely and being dickish about it. Apparently I need more coffee.

  13. 13
    rdldot says:

    I love Taylor Branch. Thanks for the link. I could listen to him forever. His stories are always wonderful and he has one of those voices that just soothe you.

  14. 14
    sharl says:

    Great link (and thankyew freezing rain-related work delay, for giving me the unexpected gift of sufficient time to listen)!

  15. 15
    Mnemosyne says:

    I ended up buying Parting the Waters electronically and giving my paper copy away — that book is thicker than Nixonland, which actually aggravated my carpal tunnel problems when I tried to read it.

  16. 16
    Elizabelle says:


    Little bit of a broad brush, but Wills makes some good points. Like how the South used to enjoy large government spending on its behalf.

    Still does, but it’s verboten to acknowledge same.

    And the part about climate change hitting the South, hard, whether they deny its existence or not.

  17. 17
    PeakVT says:

    @Elizabelle: The specific points about climate change and the like are fine, but hardly new. The top half of the essay, though, is execrable.

  18. 18
    Phoenix_rising says:

    @Mnemosyne: Have you tried the hardback edition of David Halberstam’s ‘The Children’?

    (ducks) Makes a fine doorstop.

  19. 19
    Short Bus Bully says:

    Great link. Just bought the e-book. Looking forward to powering through it, thanks for the good tip.

  20. 20
    dww44 says:

    Thanks for the video of this interview. It’s well worth the hour, every bit of it. As one who came of age during the 60’s and in the South, I am sharing this with all friends and family, even if some of them are of the opposite political persuasion. They may not listen to it, but they darn well should.

  21. 21
    Groucho48 says:

    His MLK books should be required reading in schools. He does try to cram too much stuff in and it can be difficult to sort out who is doing what when, but, they are a definitive retelling of an important time. One of my favorite passages:

    “Because of the persistent rumors of race trouble, the Dean of students went ahead of them. He took up a post outside the station, from which he directed the herd of students toward the colored waiting room. All obeyed him except two, Blanton Hall and Bertha Gober. They broke away to go “cleanside”, which was the local Negro slang for entering the white waiting room.
    A policeman quickly approached Hall and Gober in the line at the white ticket counter and said, “you’ll never get your ticket there.” The two students asked why, nervously and politely standing their ground. A detective laid the groundwork for arrest by advising them that their presence was “tending to create a disturbance,” and when they still did not move from the line, Laurie Pritchett ordered them to jail.”

    [A couple of nights later the arrested students were invited to a prayer meeting at a local church. By this time 3 other students had also been arrested. The Minister asked them to tell their tale. Taylor Branch…]

    “One by one they spoke, with the last student to the pulpit being Bertha Gober, a diminutive young woman with the small voice of a child, She described the arrest, her jailers, the sordid details of her cell. “I felt it was necessary to show the people that human dignity must be obtained, even if through suffering or maltreatment,” she said, “…I’d do it again anytime…After spending those two nights in jail for a worthy cause, I feel I have gained a feeling of decency and self-respect, a feeling of cleanliness that even the dirtiest walls of Albany’s jail nor the actions of my institution cannot take away from me.”

    The trembling simplicity of her speech washed over the audience. “There was nothing left to say, Sherrod wrote. He and everyone else were reduced to tears, including the “hard, grown men.”

  22. 22
    Xan Miller says:

    For those of you into collegiate sports, Branch’s article on the NCAA is well worth reading.


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