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Features: Fact Fiction and Film

Written by: Julia Smolucha

Book and Film Recommendations
The Reverend Dr. William A. Evertsberg

Martin Luther King, Jr., is my hero, so over the years I have become a casual student of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Most of my recommendations are about that subject. Perhaps some of these selections will be of only glancing interest to you, but at least it features fact, fiction, and film.

Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you read only one book about race, start here. It is almost 60 years old, but timeless. Plus it has the virtue of leanness; my edition is 14 pages long. Dr. King wrote it in the margins of old newspapers smuggled out of jail by his lawyers.

Blessed Are the Peacemakers, S. Jonathan Bass 

Dr. King wrote his Letter to eight white, prominent, moderate, Birmingham clergymen who’d asked him to slow down. Dr. Bass tells us about them. It’s a page turner.

America in the King Years, 3 volumes, Taylor Branch
Parting the Waters,
1954
1962
Pillar of Fire,
1963
1965
At Canaan’s Edge,
1965
1968

This magisterial trilogy, all 2,848 pages of it, is for the serious student. The first volume won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for History. Taylor Branch is an active Presbyterian elder and chorister at his Baltimore church. 

Carry Me Home, Diane McWhorter

Diane McWhorter, a white girl from a privileged family in Birmingham, Alabama, turned ten in 1963. She tells the story of her white family and black activists in that tumultuous year. Part history and part memoir, this book won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

To Kill a Mockingbird,, Harper Lee (Author) & Robert Mulligan (Director)

This is one of those fairly rare instances where the film is almost as good as the book. The novel won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and in 1963 the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck.

Beloved, Toni Morrison (Author) & Jonathan Demme (Director)

Maybe in this case the film is not as good as the book, but if you’re a visual learner, you’ll get the message. Not to bore you with repetition, but Ms. Morrison won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The New York Times called the novel the best of the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Just Mercy, Brian Stevenson (Author) & Destin Daniel Cretton (Director)

Fresh from Harvard Law, Brian Stevenson started trying to liberate falsely convicted inmates on death row. The 2019 film is splendid too. The book and the film will remind you why so many Americans are protesting inequality right now.

Selma, Ava Duvernay (Director)

This 2014 film is a masterpiece of civil rights cinema. British actor David Oyelowo is convincing as the quintessentially American Martin Luther King. The song Glory by John Legend and Common won the 2015 Academy Award for Best Song and is in my opinion the greatest rap song ever written.

BlacKKKlansman, Spike Lee (Director)

This film is about a black detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. Spike Lee won an Academy Award for his Adapted Screenplay based on a book by Ron Stallworth, the Black Klansman of the titles. A typically eccentric Spike Lee Joint.

Get Out, Jordan Peele (Director)

Jordan Peele won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, a harrowing contemporary parable about an interracial couple and their misadventures.