#REVIEW: AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN, by Ralph Abernathy

Dr.-Martin-Luther-King-Jr.-and-Rev.-Ralph-Abernathy.jpgYou may not be aware of who Rev. Ralph David Abernathy is, but I guarantee you know his face.  Why?  He’s the guy standing just behind or just to the side of Martin Luther King, Jr. in every picture of Martin Luther King ever taken.  In many ways he was as influential to the civil rights movement as King was– he was even the guy who brought King in as the visible face of the movement during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was what made MLK a national figure– but because he was so often quite literally the guy behind the guy he’s not nearly as well known.

I just finished his autobiography, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, a book I have owned for a while and really should have read a long, long time ago.  It’s one of the more interesting autobiographies I’ve ever read.  For example, here is the cover blurb:

The detail Mr. Abernathy offers about his life with Martin Luther King Jr. is enlightening and helps us understand what a remarkable man King was. 

You catch that?  It’s Abernathy’s book, about Abernathy, but even the blurb on the cover is about King.  So the book needs to be read on a few different levels: one, as an autobiography, two, as a biography of an entirely different person, and three, as a history of the Civil Rights movement, and specifically the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition, which King was President of and which Abernathy took over (at King’s explicit direction) after King was killed.

The ultimate result is a book that is most successful at item 3, I think, and, oddly, is weakest at item 1.  Abernathy discusses his early life carefully enough, I suppose, and you get a good picture of what growing up in Alabama in the thirties must have been like, although he’s careful to note that he was more privileged than most.  Once the SCLC enters the picture, though, any mention of Abernathy’s family or private life (or even his pastorship outside the SCLC) disappears.  The births of three of his four children go unmentioned, for example, and while his wife Juanita is present throughout the book she’s mostly there, along with Coretta Scott King, as a provider of home-cooked meals.

The book functions best, as I said, as a history of the major struggles of the SCLC, with one major caveat:  Abernathy, and it hurts me to say this because of who he was, was apparently a bit of a pompous ass.  There are a number of other important figures throughout the movement who Abernathy clearly loathed, and some, such as Stokely Carmichael, endure abuse virtually every time they are mentioned. Jesse Jackson has an entire chapter that, other than the final page, is wholly dedicated to how egotistical he was.  He treats the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee like it was overrun with Black Panthers from day one, which is manifestly untrue, yet neglects to mention the actual beginning of the black power movement, which he was present for.  Most amazingly, Abernathy managed to write an entire chapter about the March on Washington without mentioning Bayard Rustin.

There would not have been a March on Washington without Bayard Rustin, and his omission is shocking.  I can only assume that Abernathy disapproved of Rustin being openly gay, because otherwise he should have popped up way more often.  With Carmichael and Jackson, the differences were more clearly personal.

And then there’s the way he treats MLK, and that for me is both the worst and most interesting parts of the book.  Here’s the thing: Martin Luther King was not the perfect saint that modern media wants him portrayed as.  He was, as I’ve said before, human.  And he was, unfortunately, among many, many other things, the vast majority of them good, a philanderer.

Now: if you’re writing a biography of Martin Luther King Jr., you owe it to him and to your audience to not treat him as an unassailable, perfect person, and I think King himself would agree with that.  An biography of King, at least one intended for grown-ups to read, should deal with the man’s darker side.

But if your book is about you, and you were Martin Luther King’s best friend and constant companion through the most important years of his life, and if you were literally the last human person he touched and saw and tried to speak to before the assassin’s bullet took his life, maybe, just maybe you don’t devote a chunk of the chapter about the night he was killed to the fact that he slept with as many as three different women during the couple of nights before the assassination.  Maybe you leave that detail out.  Maybe you don’t devote several pages to it.  Just maybe.

It comes off kinda fucked up, is what I’m saying.

So, yeah: make no mistake, Ralph Abernathy was a pompous ass and one of the ways he uses this book is to settle some scores, and he occasionally takes some credit for things he wasn’t entirely responsible for, and I can’t help but think that I think some residual jealousy toward King was informing the way he wrote about the last few days of MLK’s life.  But I’m not star-rating Ralph Abernathy, and again, the man is allowed to be human, and the good he did in life far, far outweighs spreading some vitriol around in the autobiography he wrote the year before he died (and, possibly relevantly, after having had at least two minor strokes.)  As a book, AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN is fascinating, and any student of the Civil Rights Movement should have already read it.

Five stars.

#Fridayfictioneers: Move to the country! It’ll be great!

PHOTO PROMPT © Erin Leary
PHOTO PROMPT © Erin Leary

 

“Well, there’s your problem.”  The old man spat, then crossed himself.  “Faerie road, out there in the marshes. Pointed to your house.”

I blinked.  Twice.  “What?”

“Aye.  Brings the old ones out, it will.  The sounds, the bangs, the cracks, the bugs. None of it the house.  Their doing.  All of it.”

He leaned toward me.  “I know one who could fix it.  But not a carpenter.  An exterminator.”

Okay.  “What’s his name?”

“Don’t worry about that, now,” he said.  “Just … well, sometimes they’re angry when their roads are broken.  Consider moving.  Might be easier.”

Suddenly I really missed Chicago.

Word Count: 100


Friday Fictioneers is a weekly blog hop hosted by Rochelle. She posts a photo prompt then challenges readers to write a 100 word story inspired by the prompt. It’s a fun challenge. Give it a try! Check here for the info then write your story and post it, link up and enjoy the other stories!

I got nothing right now

And I’ve got too much to do today to stare at screens all morning.  So let’s argue about whether the new Rihanna single is terrible or not:

EDIT: that’s not the right song.  Hmm.

Well, argue about whether the new Rihanna single is terrible, and listen to this badly lip-synched good old Rihanna song:

EDITED EDIT: Wow, she is shit live.

EDITED EDIT OF THE EDIT:  Here, watch this, it’s way better:

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EDITAPALOOZA: Stormtroopers kiss weird.finn-poe-star-wars-1452207578.gif

In which I was up too late last night

So at 5:30 yesterday I tweeted this:

I was both right and wrong in this prediction; I was at the time under the impression that the big blizzard that is supposed to hit Iowa tonight was supposed to be there yesterday, so I thought weather would be a much bigger issue for the primaries than it turned out to be.  However, it turns out that Trump’s people still didn’t turn out the way people thought they would even without being able to use the weather as an excuse, so it’s a wash.

I figured Hillary and Bernie would be within a couple of points of each other; I’m going to call myself right here because as of last I saw Hillary did have more votes/delegates than Bernie did but it’s basically a tie.  Sanders still managed to massively outperform what everyone thought he was going to do a couple of months ago, and (again) from what I’ve been seeing his lead in New Hampshire is substantial, so we’re going to have to see what happens once the race moves to states where there are actual black people, and see if Hillary’s massive lead among people of color still holds up.

(Don’t count Sanders out here.  I’ll keep saying this until people listen: the early knock against Obama was that he wasn’t black enough, and that since the Clintons were always so popular with black voters, Hillary would hold on to them in the primaries.  Once black people started voting for Obama as much as the young white liberals were, the narrative immediately shifted to accuse them of only voting for him because he was black.  I see no reason why Bernie can’t manage the same flip, given Clinton’s historical precedent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.)

Now, that said: Trump’s lead in New Hampshire is also fairly substantial, but I will be very surprised if we don’t see that lead erode quite significantly if not disappear altogether by the time the voting actually happens.  People talk about Hillary as the candidate of inevitability but Trump’s entire thing is that he’s a winning winner who only wins and never loses.  Well, he just lost– hell, he almost came in third— in a place everybody expected him to win, and he lost to a guy whose biological humanity is in serious doubt and who everyone hates.(*)  His aura as the Big Winner, for all that it was a massive lie to begin with, is now officially deflated.  He may still win New Hampshire, but if he does he’ll be limping across the finish line and I don’t think he’ll last much longer after that.  If he loses New Hampshire, he’s done.

Expect the birther attacks against Slither to ramp up quite a bit next week.  That said, he’ll be picking up a huge chunk of Carson’s people, who have got to be done with him by now, and the folks who were voting Trump just because he was the big swinging dick in the room will probably swing his way too.  Rubio, for whatever reason, is perceived as having all the momentum right now, so he’ll probably scoop up a lot of the lesser-rans.  The polling is going to be really interesting to look at.

All right.  That’s enough for now; after a Sunday night where my sleep was most accurately measured in minutes and not getting to bed until past midnight last night, I am officially crashed out and don’t really have any ambitions beyond maybe getting some reading done today.  If I manage any fiction it’ll be a miracle and a bonus and I’m not gonna worry about it.

(*) How can Slither have won when “everybody hates him,” you ask?  He got about 52000 votes in a state with a voting population of roughly 2.25 million people.  That’s 2.3 percent of Iowa voters.  This is not the roaring endorsement he wants you to believe it is.  Trump, who was leading for the entire race, was also the most despised candidate in the race, managing to be the frontrunner and the guy with the highest negatives at the same time.   He crowed and crowed during his speech about having gotten more votes than any Republican candidate ever; I submit to you that there were 171000 Democratic caucusgoers, implying that both viable Dem candidates beat his vote total by a wide margin.


One more thing: did anyone else, watching Hillary’s speech, get distracted by the thought that Bill looks really seriously unhealthy right now?  CNN didn’t show his introductory speech, since Slither was talking at the time, but the open-mouthed, vacant gaze he had going behind Hillary during her entire speech was both alarming and creepy.  I’m hoping it was just an artifact of being on stage and, I dunno, lights in his eyes and not actually being the person everyone was supposed to be paying attention to, but god damn he did not look good last night.