In "Pillar of Fire," the second volume of his America in the King Years trilogy, Taylor Branch portrays the civil rights era at its zenith. The first volume, "Parting the Waters," won the Pulitzer Prize for History. It is a monumental chronicle of a movement that stirred from Southern black churches to challenge the national conscience during the Eisenhower and Kennedy years. In this masterly continuation of the narrative, Branch recounts the climactic struggles as they commanded the national and international stage.
"Pillar of Fire" covers the far-flung upheavals of the years 1963 to 1965 -- Dallas, St. Augustine, Mississippi Freedom Summer, LBJ's Great Society and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Vietnam, Selma. And it provides a frank, revealing portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. -- haunted by blackmail, factionalism, and hatred while he tried to hold the nonviolent movement together as a dramatic force in history. Allies, rivals, and opponents addressed racial issues that went deeper than fair treatment at bus stops or lunch counters. Participants on all sides stretched themselves and their country to the breaking point over the meaning of simple words: dignity, equal votes, equal souls.
Taylor Branch is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63." He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.