The Struggle for the People’s King

This week’s review uncovers how collective memory of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy has transformed over time, leading political groups and leaders to reinterpret the movement and King for their own purposes.

The Struggle for the People’s King: How Politics Transforms the Memory of the Civil Rights Movement

Yazdiha, Hajar. Princeton, 2023
286p bibl index, 9780691246079 $95.00, 9780691246475 $29.95, 9780691246086

Struggle for the People's King book cover.

On the surface, it seems bizarre that Martin Luther King, Jr., has become a “hero and martyr” to the American Right, especially those working to undo the policies for which King fought. But in Struggle for the People’s King, Yazdiha (sociology, Univ. of Southern California) exposes the tricky ways that collective memory about the Civil Rights Movement has evolved, dating back to the long debate over instituting a national holiday in King’s honor. The book explores the “divergent social realities” that have developed around civil rights during the last half-century, as various political actors have strategically deployed King’s image toward their own ends. Yazdiha shows how the corrupted memory of the Civil Rights Movement now allows it to be used against itself, inviting broader reflection about the place of collective memory in democratic politics. The book also makes a strong case for teaching history comprehensively and unflinchingly. Some of the charts and graphs in the book feel forced; the book is strongest when it simply tells its often surprising historical story. In the political cautions that story makes, Struggle for the People’s King is a book that will be revealing to students and useful to activists.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates through faculty; practitioners; general readers.
: S. M. Barndt, Pomona College
Interdisciplinary Subjects: African and African American Studies , Racial Justice
Subject: Social & Behavioral Sciences – Political Science – U.S. Politics
Choice Issue: Oct 2023

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