Telling empowering stories, South Africans want to hear

Thursday, 20 July 2023 12:18

The Life of Martin Luther King by Jonathan Eig review – a story that speaks to our times.

By Jacob Mawela.

File Photo.

"Barber, do you read your Bible?"

A 25-years young man answering to the service of God by way of station his station in life, enquired of a barber who queried why he never tipped for service rendered.

The inquirer was described as short, having a large head with unusually small ears, a wide nose and a forehead so high that his hair seemed to be receding. Additionally, he grew a moustache which he kept neatly trimmed.

Yet he was not an ordinary nor conventional representative of divinity. Although a Negro born into a very brutally racist United States – he had a White girlfriend who he flaunted in front of those of like colour who didn’t harbour interracial dalliances and, in the US of that period, would go to extremes such as lynching dark-skinned offenders, just so as to make a point!

Popular among his circle pending his seminary and post-seminary years for his dapper sense accentuated by a wardrobe of bespoke suits – he possessed good looks and charm which, in the words of a lifelong close associate, "attracted women, even when he didn't intend to, and attracted them in droves."

He was said to believe in love so much so that he disregarded a colleague's advice to, "cool it down", with a woman he was involved in an intense affair with. That, despite being married and surrounded by the prominence of being the figurehead of a civil rights movement seeking to address racial inequalities in 1950s and 1960s America. "What you say might be right, but I don''t care … I have no intention of cutting off this relationship," he retorted – going on to aver during a sermon, as if to justify his indiscretion, that, "we know how to be just, and yet we are unjust."

American author, Jonathan Eig's portrayal of this review's subject of interest goes further – owing mainly to recently declassified Federal Bureau of Investigation files – than the well-documented heroics which had included the latter among the pantheon of all-time history's colossal figures!

Cuing on Nelson Mandela's romantic shenanigans laid bare in Jonny Steinberg's Winnie & Nelson book, I found fascination in another parallel aspect between the South African struggle icon and his American equivalent in which Madiba moved around in a green Oldsmobile car as a lawyer and the renown civil rights icon, a fellow Nobel Peace Laureate, drove around in a green Chevrolet – a reward from his parents for earning a bachelor of divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.

Both men's legacies are cemented for posterity and I'm not mentioning their infidelities to besmirch them, but rather as pointing out their common mortality – in spite of having realized feats ranked as those of immortals!

The American was simultaneously much loved and abhorred by opposing sections of American society, even when he made and indelible impression among presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson – who partnered in the process of steering a bitterly divided country towards racial integration.

Eig's 500 plus page paperback tome throbs with identities of familiar landmarks and figures in history such as those of the Edmund Pettus Bridge (the site of the event which became referred to as "Bloody Sunday" when White law-enforcement officers violently dispersed African-American civil rights movement protesters in 1965), Selma, Montgomery, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks, Harry Belafonte, Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, J, Edgar Hoover, et cetera.

Distributed locally through Jonat James Baldwin, J . han Ball Publishers, King available at reputable bookstores nationwide.