The Promise and the dream The untold story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy

David Margolick

Book - 2018

No issue in America in the 1960s was more vital than civil rights, and no two public figures were more crucial in the drama of race relations in this era than Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Fifty years after they were both assassinated, noted journalist David Margolick explores the untold story of the complex and ever-evolving relationship between these two American icons. Assassinated only sixty-two days apart in 1968, King and Kennedy changed the United States forever, and their deaths profoundly altered the country's trajectory. As trailblazers in the civil rights movement, leaders in their respective communities, and political powerhouses with enormous personal appeal, no single pairing of white and black ever more in American history. In The Promise and the Dream, Margolick examines their unique bond and the complicated mix of mutual assistance, impatience, wariness, awkwardness, antagonism and admiration that existed between the two, documented with firsthand interviews from close sources, oral histories, FBI files, and previously untapped, contemporaneous newspaper accounts. At a turning point in social history, MLK and RFK embarked on distinct but converging paths toward lasting change. Even when they weren't interacting directly, they monitored and learned from, one another. Yet the distance they maintained from one another reflected much broader tensions between the races in the United States, and their nearly simultaneous deaths embodied the nation's violent predilections and ongoing racial turmoil. Their joint story, a story each man took some pains to hide and which began to come into focus only with their murders, is not just gripping history but a window into contemporary America and the challenges we continue to face. Complemented by eighty-three revealing photographs by the foremost photojournalists of the period, The Promise and the Dream offers a compelling look at one of the most consequential but misunderstood relationships in our nation's history. "Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children." --Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967 "In this difficult day, in this difficult time... It is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in." --Robert F. Kennedy, 1968 -- Publisher description

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New York : Rosetta Books [2018]
Main Author
David Margolick (author)
Other Authors
Douglas Brinkley (writer of foreword)
First edition
Item Description
"A Lawrence Schiller Book"--Title page.
Physical Description
400 pages ; illustrations (black and white) ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references.
  • Author's Note
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • 1. History Would Keep Them Together
  • 2. Look the Enemy in the Eye
  • 3. The Face of Courage
  • 4. The Unkindest Cut
  • 5. The Meeting
  • 6. As Old as the Scriptures
  • 7. The Least Worst Thing
  • 8. How Long? Not Long!
  • 9. Ripple of Hope
  • 10. A Fine Pair
  • 11. Change Would Come
  • 12. The Political Equation
  • 13. What They Did To Jack
  • 14. There Were No Words
  • Bibliography
  • Credits
Review by Choice Review

Margolick is a respected journalist, and this book is primarily reminiscences about political figures and civil rights activists. He examines a belief Kennedy and King shared: the need to help the disadvantaged. This belief locked the two men together in opposing the Vietnam War long before that opposition became fashionable. In addition, both men had the premonition that they would die before achieving either the promise or the dream. Kennedy was seen as ruthless, though he softened through the 1960s, and King was considered cautious, but he became more aggressive. Kennedy first tied the Vietnam War to the issue of civil rights, but King's vocal opposition to the war soon outdistanced Kennedy's. Both men suffered from self-doubt and loss of focus, though by early 1968 Kennedy had determined to make a run for the presidency, and King, who was losing ground to more radical civil rights activists, had developed his plan to lead the Poor People's Campaign, a major protest in Washington, DC. Kennedy's and King's assassinations, only weeks apart, burnished both their reputations. The concluding "what ifs" are interesting, but the book is not as powerful as Steven Levingston's Kennedy and King (CH, Mar'18, 55-2579). Summing Up: Recommended. With reservations. Lower-division undergraduates; general readers. --Duncan R. Jamieson, Ashland University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review

for those of us who lived through it, 1968 was a year like no other. From the Tet offensive in Vietnam to the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy to the mean streets of Chicago, Paris and Prague to the dark politics of Richard Nixon's road to the White House, one crisis after another challenged our ability to cope with the unexpected. Explaining this singularly frightening year to our children and grandchildren has never been easy. How can we recapitulate all of the traumas and lost dreams - especially the assassinations and descent into violence and despair - without wandering into a muddle of confusion? To have any hope of making sense of it all, we need a discerning and reliable guidebook, a work that not only identifies the most important events of 1968 but also puts them in historical context. This is what David Margolick's "The Promise and the Dream" gives us in large measure, an engaging work of popular history that revisits the interconnected lives of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. In Margolick's formulation, the greatest tragedy of 1968 lies in the political devastation wreaked by the dual assassinations of King on April 4 and Kennedy on June 6. In the short span of eight weeks, the country lost its most imaginative moral leader and its most progressive politician - and with their passings the chance of a meaningful national renewal all but disappeared. This calculus of loss rests on the supposition that the two men shared enough ideology and political motivation to foster a close working relationship following a Kennedy victory in the 1968 (or perhaps 1972) election. We can only speculate about the probability of such a victory or the nature of a hypothetical Robert Kennedy administration - or about how the administration would have addressed matters of war, poverty and social justice with King advising the new president either openly or behind the scenes. But the author's projection of such a progressive alliance is intriguing. Interestingly, Margolick, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, demonstrates that a solid M.L.K./R.F.K. combination would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the decade. He devotes much of the book to a painstaking reconstruction of each man's evolving moral and political consciousness - a dual narrative that reveals convergence but very little evidence of a developing relationship, either personal or public. Kennedy and King were neither friends nor formal political allies. While they had known each other since October 1960, when Robert Kennedy had phoned a Georgia judge to plead for King's release from jail, their subsequent personal contact was limited to a few cursory meetings and phone calls. Indeed, during their last four years they seem to have met only once, at a congressional subcommittee hearing on urban poverty. In one of the book's many clever asides, Margolick acknowledges this startling fact with a reference to Dion's musical tribute "Abraham, Martin and John." "Kennedy and King may be linked in a famous song," he writes - "both freed a lot of people and died young, it says - but they saw little more of each other than either saw of Abraham Lincoln." Even so, Margolick makes a strong case that the two leaders ended up in roughly the same place by 1968. Both had become sharp critics of America's military involvement in Vietnam, yet both had fastened upon the scourge of gross economic inequality as the greatest threat to American democracy. Despite the obvious differences between a pugnacious politician and an idealistic minister, they were essentially on the same page, reading and voicing the same lessons of freedom and redemption for the United States. With a halfcentury of historical perspective and Margolick's help, we can now see the full potential for creative collaboration between the politician of promise and the dreamer. But, as the author of this carefully rendered book points out, the celebrated singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte - one observer who knew both men well - already recognized this potential during that fateful spring, describing "a Kennedy-King alliance" as "the right wing's greatest fear." RAYMOND ARSENAULT is the author of "Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice," and "Arthur Ashe: A Life," to be published in August.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [May 6, 2018]
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Vanity Fair editor Margolick (Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock) provides an enlightening perspective on Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., two iconic figures linked in the popular mind by shared agendas and tragic deaths. But Margolick makes it clear that the two men interacted infrequently, especially after President Kennedy's murder, and had less of the mythologized partnership than a "distant camaraderie." It was only after King's assassination, he explains, that "a revisionist mythology about the bond between King and Kennedy" was born that still persists in the popular understanding today. Margolick interweaves the two biographies skillfully and doesn't shy away from puncturing idealization of 1960s progressivism with warts-and-all depictions of both men and their faults, tempers, and agendas. The paths towards their deaths feel as inevitable as a Greek tragedy-both expected assassin's bullets, and King had even prepared detailed directives about his funeral. Margolick also makes palpable the inspiration and hope that King and Kennedy provided to millions, despite his reasoned but depressing conclusion: "That two men whose interests and passions overlapped interacted so little is but another illustration of the enduring chasm between the races, one which, for reasons of sentimentality and shame, our culture has every reason to minimize." This is a valuable contribution to the body of work on 1960s America. Photos. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review by Kirkus Book Review

Dual biography of two of the most ardent, inspiring, and complex champions of American civil rights.The lives of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were destined to be forever coupled, not least because of their complicated relationships with Bobby's brother, John F. Kennedy. Here, longtime Vanity Fair journalist Margolick (Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns, 2013, etc.) brings the same insight and cleareyed analysis that he has brought to his storied biographies and racially potent historical analyses. Although the lives of both men have been covered in detail, Margolick does a fine job of not only portraying crucial eventswith the help of new interviews and newly unsealed histories and documentsbut also plowing through the misty romanticism that still surrounds these men. "It's instructive sometimes to study the pre-hagiographic histories of saints," he writes. Here, Kennedy struggles to uncloak his reputation for being "ruthless" even as he has to shoulder the emotional burden of his brother's assassination. King, meanwhile, "grew more famous, ambitious, revered and inspiring, loathed and threatening, angry, bitter, radical, desperate." They lived their lives wary of each other, shadowboxing in the public arena, as illustrated by the dramatic historical photographs that punctuate the book. But via Margolick's account, we learn these men had far more in common than even they thought, including struggles with depression that stand in stark contrast to the optimism they inspired in a nation. While there's a fatalism that hangs over their arcs, it's inspiring to see that both men were propelled, even to the end, by the causes of racial equality and social justice. "When these two young men were murdered, something died in all of us," said civil rights icon John Lewis. "We were robbed of part of our future."The most telling line of this well-crafted and timely story comes from Lewis as well: "They were friends, and didn't even know that they were friends." Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.