Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters is subtitled "America in the King Years 1954-63"
should be enough to tell us that the purpose of the author was to give out a biographical story of Martin Luther King, but, at the same time, integrate it in the American society of those times, as a complementary piece of information in relation of the 1954-1963 decade. Further more, the relationship between Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement is intrinsic. So, the historical thread is presented on several levels that are closely interconnected: the American society, Martin Luther King and the civil tights movement.
The previous paragraph has some key elements that are of importance to the narrative. First of all, obviously, there is Martin Luther King. Central figure of the movement and of the entire period discussed, he is presented as he rises to the highest levels of respect as leader of the civil rights movement. The author is keen to underline and emphasize not only the way Martin Luther King came to lead the movement, but also the characteristics and individual qualities that have brought him there.
Indeed, we see how Martin Luther King, almost by accident, is heading the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Up to that time, he had had no real intentions of leading a revolt or a racial movement. However, here he is delivering a speech in front of the African- American crowd and being regarded as the one who could lead the African- American aspirations. It is at this point and following a religious revelation that he begins to believe in his mission and that he acts accordingly.
As many critics are keen to notice, the book is an insightful encounter with Martin Luther King's character, as they are reflected in some of his actions, but also as they are surprised by the author through some of the documents and written materials of those times.
As I have mentioned, Martin Luther King is not presented isolated and, indeed, this is not a biographical work. The point of the book is to integrate Martin Luther King's figure into a much larger framework, a framework that is to include the American society, the civil rights movements and all those gravitating around King' figure, including some of his enemies, like J. Edgar Hoover. Let's have a brief look at each of these elements in part.
According to Branch himself, "America was transformed between 1963 and 1965"
because "the Civil Rights Movement expanded as long as people were asking questions of each other and took risks about what freedom means, how we get there"
. So, the Civil Rights Movement, besides the historical value we are bound to give it, was also a time of philosophical experimentation and search. It was the constant search for one's freedom, freedom of expression and movement and everything that true democracy brings about.
In this sense, we may assert that it was not necessarily only the African-American struggle. In many ways, it was also the struggle of the Americans protesting against the beginning of the Vietnam War or those Americans having to deal with people like J. Edgar Hoover as head of the FBI, chasing Communists everywhere and imposing a less optimistic view on the entire society.
So, the Civil Rights movement had everything to do with discovering and expressing freedom, in all levels of society (of course, with a strong emphasis on the racial minorities) and all aspects. Further more, as Taylor Branch points out, "the Movement imploded as soon as people started quarreling over who should get credit and started announcing decisions"
. The Civil Rights Movement has something of the idealism of the romantic period, with people wanted to be able to express and exercise their rights. As soon as this was partially achieved, corroborated with the death of Martin Luther King, the Movement was soon to be over.
Finally, as I have mentioned, a key point for the entire narration is the presentation of the American society during those times and especially of some of the front faces that were making history, starting with J. Edgar Hoover and the Kennedys and continuing with some of the persons in Martin Luther King's entourage. The author is keen in surprising different traits in his characters' personalities, most likely to be true, especially if we consider the enormous amount of…