The triumphs of the Montgomery bus boycott and the March on Washington with its stirring "I Have a Dream" speech, the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts and the winning of the Nobel Peace Prize were all behind Martin Luther King Jr. when he began the last and perhaps loneliest year of his life in January 1968. Now black-power militants and even some of his closest advisers were rejecting King's philosophy of nonviolence. Many white supporters of the civil rights movement had redirected their enthusiasm--and their dollars--to opposing the war in Vietnam. Other whites chastised King for speaking out against the war. Constant travel to rally support for his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), along with his frequent affairs on the road, strained King's marriage. Premonitions of death stalked him. Meanwhile, the FBI stepped up its harassment with wiretaps and dirty tricks. Determined to revitalize his mission and himself, King hoped he could achieve both by leading a multiracial crusade against poverty. He called it the Poor People's Campaign, and although his staff had deep reservations about the idea, he spent what would be his last months planning a new march on Washington. The turbulence of King's final days comes vividly to life in Time's exclusive excerpts from At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68, the final volume of Pulitzer prizewinner Taylor Branch's three-part history of the civil rights movement and its most charismatic leader. In this portrait of King as a man under siege, his passion and his rhetoric reach new levels of grace.
DISCONTENT IN BOTH HIS HOUSES
King spent the early weeks of the new year flying around the country trying to drum up support for his poverty campaign but he found one of his toughest audiences back home in Atlanta
WITH HIS AIDE ANDREW YOUNG, KING TOOK A midnight flight through Dallas and reached home early on Jan. 15. They arrived late and exhausted for King's morning presentation at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he was the pastor. Some 60 members of the SCLC staff were gathered from scattered posts with their travel possessions, ready to disperse straight from Atlanta to recruiting assignments for the poverty campaign. SCLC executive director William Rutherford's summons had described a mandatory workshop of crisp final instructions--"it is imperative"--but King labored more broadly to overcome festering doubt and confusion about why they must go to Washington. He thanked his father Daddy King and others for fill-in speeches to cover his tardiness. He made a faltering joke about the tepid response of friends with their coats still on--"they act like it's cold in my church"--and betrayed rare unease in a defensive speech.