At Canaan's Edge

At Canaan's Edge
by Taylor Branch

Every time the country is convulsed by a racial outrage like the lynching of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas, or the beating of a black man on a city street by New Orleans police, some despairing soul can be counted on to declare that nothing really has changed, that American society today is as racist and unequal and biased against black people as it ever was.

Read this last volume of Taylor Branch’s biographical trilogy of Martin Luther King Jr., however, and it quickly becomes apparent that, racially, everything has changed in America, and for the better. To be sure, conditions are not yet where they need to be or where we should want them to be, but they are radically different from what they were in 1965, the year of voting rights and the Selma-to-Montgomery march, or in 1968, the year of the Tet offensive, Lyndon Johnson’s abdication as a presidential candidate, the Memphis garbage-workers strike-and King’s assassination.

Thanks ironically to one of the outrages of that era-the wiretapping of King and his close friend Stanley Levison by the FBI under its bigoted, hate-filled, and Communist-obsessed director J. Edgar Hoover-Branch had access to transcripts of phone conversations and other private discussions among King and many of his associates. He had similar access to President Lyndon Johnson, many of whose telephone and other conversations were picked up by a White House tape-recording system and...

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