My Copy: 9780807000694 (image from bn.com)
I had to read this book in college for my U.S. Social Movements class, and I remember enjoying the hell out of it for a class read.
Stride Toward Freedom is the earliest autobiographical book by MLK Jr. It isn’t entirely chronological, and does jump around a little bit for important backstory and the like, but isn’t a difficult read at all. The book describes King’s early life with his father, who lived in the segregated South but never accepted the status quo. It tells of his time at college and in his studies to become a minister, the works he read and authors who influenced him (or ones he disagreed with and why). It also tells of the discussion and difficulty he and Coretta had regarding whether he should do ministerial work in the North where there were some contacts, or in the South where he had a few positions willing to accept him.
And then there was the bus boycott, which is the primary focus of this book. The textbook version of events is that you have segregated seating, then Rosa Parks refused to move, then boycott, then the bus company knuckled under nonviolent protest and “victory!”.
The textbooks generally don’t mention much about the White Citizens Council, the lawsuits, the arrests, city ordinances passed to make the boycott harder, bombings of churches and homes that took place.
Our textbooks left out a lot.
King is rather matter of fact and spends much time reflecting on his own thoughts, but he doesn’t spend pages and pages on one detail like some authors might. He’s being instructive, as accurate as possible, and keeping it short.
Stride Toward Freedom walks about his ideas regarding nonviolent resistance and the influences that helped him along. He also talks about the doubts and troubles he encountered, the little hindrances that came about from outside the movement. He was seen as the leader of a massive movement, and this book details the many ways he tried to help keep it together, and how the spirit and practice of non-violence kept the black people going even when many had to walk everywhere or carpool in order to avoid the buses.
If you wanted to know more about Dr. King, about the bus boycotts, nonviolent resistance, and how community spirit helped overturn at least a little of the entrenched segregation in one community, then Striving Toward Freedom is a worthy read. It’s not a difficult one, and is a page-turner for an autobiography.
I’ll get to the other two King autobiographies pretty soon (I haven’t read them yet), but there’s another one I must read first because it’s sticking in my mind for a reason I’ll reveal once I’ve read it.