Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Martin Luther King book is Tavis Smiley's best work

The awesome bust of Dr. King
 in Chester's Veteran's Memorial Park
Teacher Heather told the class that Dr. Martin Luther King died. We were in 2nd grade and didn’t have a clue who Martin Luther King was. Most of us didn’t have a clue what death was. I knew it was important and couldn’t wait to get home to tell my father. “Dad. Arthur the King died!” He looked at me and laughed.

I’ll never forget that laugh. I knew Martin Luther King must have been somebody and I was determined to find out who he was. I was too young to remember the riots that followed his death and too young to join the ‘movement’. By the time I was old enough to begin learning MLK lessons, all I heard was his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and how his non violent movement made life better for blacks. 

Then there was a holiday to commemorate him and more reminders of ‘I Have a Dream’. Now, there are Days of Service - ‘A day on, not a day off’.

I wasn’t buying none of it. There had to be more to Martin Luther King than that. 

I started studying Dr. King and found him to be much more complex than ‘I Have a Dream.’ In fact, I liked what King was talking about in his final days before he was killed. Unfortunately, it’s hard to assemble references to string his final days all together so that it makes sense. Somehow, the complex side of MLK is just as complex to study.

Until now.

Tavis Smiley’s new book, ‘Death of a King’, painstakingly takes you through the last year of Martin’s life with the type of detail I’ve been longing for. Smiley is a couple years younger than me and early in the book he shares the same sentiments I had about the Martin Luther King. I’m so glad Smiley took the time to produce this important book.

He does a masterful job of telling this story as if you’re right beside Martin peering inside his head. King works harder than any man should, takes on more hate than any man could, and sticks to his guns as most men won’t. 

I love how Smiley seamlessly infuses Martin’s sermons, speeches, interviews, and conversation into the narrative to tell the story and bring a richer experience of King’s body of work. In short, you will be amazed how MLK did more in one year than most people could do in five lifetimes. 

You don’t know Martin Luther King until you read ‘Death of a King’. There is no other book that comes close to documenting the MLK everyone wants you to forget, or to not know had existed at all.

To Tavis Smiley, thank you. You knocked this one out the park. 


  1. Thank you for your reflection. It makes me want to read the book!

  2. Good job Mr. Roots. You have made me want to read this book. Even though Travis is not one of my favorite people.
    Keep up the good work.


    1. I've been looking for a reason to like Tavis. I admire his work ethic, his creative endeavors, his bold and brash opinions, and his ability to juggle several jobs at once. But I can't say that I've become endeared to him. This book raises my respect for Tavis. It really does complete a part of history that has been overlooked and under-documented.