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Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954–63
Taylor Branch


By far the most readable of the civil rights histories, filled with fascinating background on the African American church and Martin Luther King's personal makeup, plus riveting storytelling. This book will keep you up at night.

Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
David J. Garrow


A 700-page blockbuster and Pulitzer winner that provides a comprehensive history of King and the movement he led and inspired.

Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution
Diane McWhorter


McWhorter grew up in privileged, white Birmingham, and she provides a graphic panorama of both white and black forces that grappled for power there. No book I know so expands the social, economic, and religious canvas. The book is messy but intoxicating.

The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today
Charles Marsh


Marsh combines the skills of a theologian, historian, and storyteller to bring a probing and meditative description of the civil rights movement, its triumphs and failings, up to its impact on today's social justice movements.

Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement
John Lewis and Michael D'Orso


Congressman Lewis lived every aspect of the movement: he was beaten several times, arrested more, elected and then deposed as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, finally entering politics. This memoir is testimony to an incredible era.


Related Elsewhere:

Previous top 5 lists had books about social justice, church history, popular culture, the Civil War, apologetics, atheism, and sex.

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February 2008

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