In his provocative new book, April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Death and How It Changed America, author, educator and activist Michael Eric Dyson rekindles grim memories for readers who made it through that tough time, while giving needed perspective to those of later generations. Dyson wrests the image of King from that of a conciliatory, peaceful figure, and recasts him as a visionary change agent whose goals weren't merely to address injustices, but to radically remake American society.
In Dyson's view, King inspired black Americans to be proud of their heritage, to demand equality rather than ask for it, and to recognize the potential for greatness within their ranks. He also puts King squarely in the forefront of several global struggles: for the recognition of emerging nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America; for acknowledgement of the West's responsibility toward less fortunate countries; and for the establishment of links between oppressed people regardless of color, gender or sexual preference. April 4, 1968 addresses the conflicts King's evolving views caused with more traditional elements in both black and white America, and Dyson makes it clear that there were questions about direction, philosophy and viewpoint within the ranks of the civil rights movement.
Dyson faithfully recalls the details of King's assassination and the atmosphere of genuine despair and anger that followed, one that led to riots in several cities and numerous conspiracy theories. He also covers lingering controversies - for example, whether James Earl Ray acted alone or even fired the fateful shot.
April 4, 1968 is an analysis and examination of the 1960s and black politics, with an occasional side trip into musical dissection and film lore. Dyson, a Georgetown University professor, credibly and effectively ties these subjects together, offering a broad and valuable picture of King's life and impact.
Ron Wynn writes for the Nashville City Paper and other publications.