Review: When Harlem Nearly Killed King

When Harlem Nearly Killed King
When Harlem Nearly Killed King by Hugh Pearson

Book in a Nutshell: Forgotten in the midst of MLK’s service and speeches, one September week in New York City could have altered the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Visiting Harlem to promote his first book, King deals with tribalism among other black leaders, attempts to take advantage of the fall’s election season to garner support for his cause, and lands in the operating room after a shocking attack.

Reaction: In only 144 pages, this book exposes many events and issues surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr. and the broader civil rights movement that are underrepresented in many other works. The initial chapters that reveal King’s struggles in his own ministry as a public figure provide a number of helpful lessons for those in leadership and ministry today. Pearson also provides just enough context regarding the various camps of black leadership, the political contests in New York City, and America’s ongoing fascination and fear with Russian Communism to enable the reader to grasp how the attack on King’s life could take place in the way that it did.

While already a short a read, the book seems to lose it’s steady rhythm in the twelfth chapter as Pearson gets bogged down in discussing the backgrounds of the medical staff at Harlem Hospital. This focus on medicine does present a unique window into the everyday racial discrimination in the late 1950’s, but this section feels alien to the rest of the book. All of the other chapters are of similar length and offer a helpful amount of context while keeping an enjoyable pace. But when the hospital staff emerges the pace shuts down. This lack of uniformity and the cumbersome interruption of the book’s swift movement keeps me from giving it a higher ranking.

Quote: “Had he sneezed violently enough, there’s a good chance he would have drowned in his own blood.”

Ranking: 3 of 5 stars

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