cover image Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor, and the Battle Over Civil Rights

Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor, and the Battle Over Civil Rights

Steven Levingston. Hachette, $28 (544p) ISBN 978-0-316-26739-7

Levingston (Little Demon in the City of Light), nonfiction book editor at the Washington Post, comprehensively evaluates the antagonistic interplay of Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy during the civil rights movement. He contrasts the unstoppable forces of King’s soaring oratory, Christian principles, and moral authority with the immovable objects of Kennedy’s privilege, political calculation, and presidential power. Their push and pull unfolded in a cultural cauldron that encompassed the Montgomery bus boycott, the freedom rides, King’s stints in jail, the children’s crusade in Birmingham, Gov. George Wallace’s segregationist stand at the University of Alabama, and the march on Washington. Students of the movement will appreciate Levingston’s portrayals of two key behind-the-scenes movers and shakers: Harry Belafonte, the entertainer who served as the intermediary between the pastor and the politician, and Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, whose early support of King was pivotal in the pastor’s triumphal moving of the president from political agnosticism to action, which led to President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “Through his persistence, King developed a successful strategy for speaking truth to power,” Levingston writes. “Although ambivalent from the start, President Kennedy demonstrated that progress occurred when power listened and learned.” Agent: Dan Lazar, Writers House. (June)