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Happy New Year. This is a personal note about career innovation in the works.

December’s front-page headline in the Baltimore Sun captures our leap of faith: UB Hopes New Type of Online Class Will Transform Education. UB is the University of Baltimore, here in my home city, and “hope is the operative word. We are excited and unsure, improvising every day, signing up various kinds of students from potentially the entire globe for our first weekly seminar on Tuesday, January 28, 2014.


The path of adaptation strains upward but rushes ahead. Only a year ago, Simon & Schuster published my compact narrative history, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. Based on classroom discussions from Alabama to Idaho, I gave the book an unusual author’s dedication,  “For students of freedom and teachers of history.

Civic education has suffered in part because school standards now emphasize math and reading above history. This is a special hazard in a country founded as a bold experiment to secure freedom in the capacity of citizens for self-government.


Many teachers, under siege, had urged me to preserve the storytelling engagement of my civil rights histories in a shorter format for the digital age. These selected moments now reach back fifty years to a dimly remembered civil rights era, when movements led by ordinary citizens uplifted the founding premise of We the People. Their disciplined public trust dispelled cynicism. Their struggles offer abiding lessons for the future.

I had taught seminars in civil rights history since the 1990s, most recently at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Our recent experiments at the University of Baltimore have measured the promise of online learning by the standards of academic rigor. Can a course fairly serve both in-class students and digital participants from Hawaii or Russia? Such problems occupied us through most of 2013.


Now we take the next step. Citizenship & Freedom is not a MOOC. Freedom is not free, but quality education should be affordable.

Course information is available on which includes the 14-week syllabus and registration procedures for several student categories.

I am grateful to the new associate instructor, Dr. Jelani Favors, and to colleagues within the hosting University of Maryland system for their entrepreneurial courage.

Adventures and thickets loom ahead. Updates soon.

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The PBS “News Hour” will televise my interview with Gwen Ifill tonight (Friday August 30) at 7:00 PM ET in most areas.

One of the points we discussed would generate Ifill’s question to President Obama about the racial underpinnings of partisan gridlock in the United States.  She and co-anchor Judy Woodruff talked with President Obama in the White House the next day, immediately after his speech at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The 50th anniversary drew widespread news coverage for a week.  Its impact on politics and national discourse is still uncertain.  Here are three recent tweets with links to programs that raise what I think are the most significant legacies and challenges from the 1963 March:

[1] This clip from Sunday’s @FaceTheNation with NAACP’s @BenJealous, Marian Wright Edelman, & me on the MOW’s legacy: …

[2] An NBC Press Pass clip with @davidgregory on why MLK & the civil rights movement are “modern Founders” in US freedom: …

[3] Pres Obama on whether partisan gridlock is driven by race: . Tonight’s PBS @NewsHour traces that sensitive question.

Other programs about the March are listed under “Appearances/Past Appearances.”

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1. Martin Luther King’s prepared speech did not include any of the famous “dream” sequence.

2. White officials and the news media anticipated race riots or worse.

3. The freedom movement itself diverted female leaders into a secondary march along Independence Avenue.

4. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover secretly decreed that King’s “demagogic speech yesterday” made him the nation’s “most dangerous Negro.”

5. Hostile reactions spawned a pervasive “government is bad” vocabulary in national politics.

6. The movement for civil rights opened gates to many collateral freedoms, keeping racial change “the central drama of democratic progress.”

7. President Barack Obama hesitates at a “tip-toe stance,” even though silence about race “collapses American history into a fairy tale.”

8. Racial and ethnic division remains a prime but unaddressed cause of partisan gridlock.

 For more on these themes, see my current essay “Remembering the March”.

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The King Years in paperback Below is the press release from Simon & Schuster announcing publication of The King Years in paperback.  The soft cover edition is being published in stores today, August 13. E-Books and special Enhanced E-Books continue to be available online.

The paperback edition is written for general readers, but its compact size also meets suggestions from teachers at many levels.  This is the first of my civil rights histories to be accompanied by a Teacher’s Guide, prepared by the award-winning educator Rosanne Lichatin.

I am grateful to Simon & Schuster, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and to the Preserve America Foundation for helping to crystallize vital lessons from history in civil rights and citizenship.


“Branch is as eloquent and trenchant as ever…the book recalls and revitalizes a history that deserves its details.” —Boston Globe

“A welcome addition to any civil rights bookshelf…In cutting his epic down to size, Branch intended ‘to convey both the spirit and the sweep of an extraordinary movement.’ With his highly readable anecdotal approach, he succeeds admirably…Branch’s storytelling skill makes this slim anthology so much more than the standard King-Parks story.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“…instead of getting a dry dates-and-events history book, readers are gifted with glimpses of life and ‘historically significant’ events, presented almost in the form of a novel….a well-known story from a new point of view…. very accessible for veterans of the movement, youngsters who weren’t born yet and for students of this subject. So if you’re looking this week for fresh reflection on a tumultuous period of time, find this.” —Augusta Chronicle

Taylor Branch is the author of the acclaimed America in the King Years trilogy, which includes the books Parting the Waters (which won the Pulitzer Prize for History), Pillar of Fire, and At Canaan’s Edge. The three-volume narrative history endures as a masterpiece of storytelling on American race, violence, and democracy. With this new book now available in paperback, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement (Simon & Schuster; August 13, 2013; $16.00), Branch has identified eighteen essential moments from the Civil Rights Movement, and providing selections from his trilogy, has placed each moment in historical context with a newly written introduction.  The captivating result is a slender but comprehensive view of America in the turbulent, transformative 1960s, by our nation’s foremost authoritative voice on the subject.

Branch looks back on his own work with fresh insight about what lessons and challenges remain most salient today. This compact book conveys the full sweep of an era, showing how a small bus boycott evolved into the signature freedom movement of the 20th century, generating worldwide inspiration and sustained progress toward equal citizenship in areas far beyond racial discrimination.

The King Years is meant for general readers, but Branch designed it also as a teaching tool for the digital age.  Starting in January 2013, from his home town, he made this book the centerpiece for an experimental on-line seminar offered by the University of Baltimore. New, interactive technology promises an unmatched course on democratic leadership for a potentially worldwide audience. With this unique, handy addition to the literature on civil rights, readers can equip themselves for an uncertain future by absorbing hope from our resilient past.

The eighteen chapters include well-known, dramatic events such as the March on Washington, and major clashes over the Vietnam War, along with up-close views of iconic figures such as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedy brothers, and President Lyndon Johnson. Branch also features underappreciated characters such as Diane Nash and the mystical student leader Bob Moses, and he illuminates small but significant turning points in history.  His chapter on voting rights, for instance, focuses neither on Selma’s famous Bloody Sunday assault nor the triumphant march into Montgomery.  Instead, Branch takes readers inside the aborted “turnaround” march in between, when a divided nonviolent movement faced maximum pressure from every level of government.  At a crossroads, Martin Luther King made uncertain choices amid fierce internal conflict.  Were political threats or promises real?  Was the hope of federal legislation more important than the cohesion of a battered citizens’ protest?  How does one find the true path between prudence and bravado, hope and fear, cooperation and self-reliance?

Branch argues that these upheavals remain crucial for anyone who wishes to understand our divided political climate. In September 1963, network television doubled nightly coverage from only 15 to 30 minutes, sending into millions of homes extra images of ugly violence against a previously invisible black culture. Television showcased primal reactions for and against its projected new world.  Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi appeared on an NBC News Special to accuse the media of a biased racial agenda, asserting that “the real goal of the conspiracy is the concentration of all effective power in the central government in Washington” (page 72).

A year later, final passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act coincided with two historic U-turns at the presidential nominating conventions.  Chapter Ten reveals President Lyndon Johnson privately in anguish, on the verge of breakdown as he turned Democrats away from their century-old base in solid-South segregation, while the Republican candidate, Senator Barry Goldwater, turned the Party of Lincoln against its emancipator’s tradition by voting against the civil rights bill. “The 1964 election marked an unprecedented shift in the structure of national politics,” writes Branch. “A partisan reversal would take hold over decades, driven and yet muffled by race, tainting the word ‘liberal’ in both parties” (page 90).

Other chapters mention wrenching changes from the era that have become taken for granted and largely unnoticed.  The Supreme Court struck down criminal laws that restricted marriage by race. The Immigration Reform Act of 1965 opened naturalized U.S. citizenship to areas of the globe that had been excluded. Once desegregated, a new Sun Belt prosperity rose in southern states that had been stigmatized and poor. Women entered Ivy League colleges, military academies, new professions, and much of the clergy. To cover urban areas sealed off in a riot, the Los Angeles Times hired its first Negro reporter in 1965. Prisons turned darker and far more crowded.  Nonviolence, the most powerful doctrine of the early civil rights movement, receded from public discourse. Cultural experts detected a broad de-glamorization of the word “city.” Negroes became black people, then African-Americans, prominent in the arts and exceptional in high places.

Throughout the book, Branch communicates this watershed history in personal stories. Profound debates move from church kitchens to the White House. Ordinary citizens risk their lives for equal treatment, and people contend over many styles of leadership. Through dramatic narrative, readers experience suffering that tested the basic premise of self-government. They also feel the perseverance and discovery that enlarged historic movements to refine democratic freedom.

The King Years is being published in paperback, ebook, and enhanced ebook editions. The enhanced ebook showcases additional videos and music throughout the text, making it a rich multi-media learning experience. Such resources include film of Walter Cronkite interviewing President Kennedy, King discussing his early plans for sustained demonstrations in Birmingham, b-roll of sit-in demonstrations, and tracks of Freedom songs. Simon & Schuster has also created a teacher’s guide of The King Years for classroom, library, and reading group use.

A special note from the author to educators and all of us still learning:

“For nearly twenty-five years,” says Taylor Branch, “since publication of Parting the Waters, teachers have pressed upon me their need for more accessible ways to immerse students in stories of authentic detail and import. Against my published habits, which are hardly succinct, the goal here is to accommodate them and others by careful choice.”

“This single-volume project has been a daunting but exhilarating challenge,” Branch adds. “American history teachers are embattled, partly because the United States has decided to evaluate schools by test scores limited to reading and math.  By downgrading the history of our distinctive national experiment, we would leave future generations less prepared to understand and exercise their vital responsibility as free citizens.”

Branch continues, “For all readers, I believe, lessons from the civil rights era apply not to bygone forms of racial segregation but most urgently to a troubled future. Drawn from the core of our national purpose, they show how ordinary people can work miracles against intractable burdens to advance both freedom and the common good.”



Taylor Branch is the bestselling author of Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63; Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65; At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968; and The Clinton Tapes. He has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He lives in Baltimore.

Simon & Schuster has created a teacher’s guide for classroom, library, and reading group use. Please request a copy.

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Technology is changing the world of books rapidly for everyone, including authors, and I am rushing to catch up with novel aspects about this month’s publication of The King Years. One frontier innovation is the “enhanced” digital edition, which gives ebook readers access to audio and video illustrations of passages in the text.

Simon & Schuster has prepared this trailer of sample enhancements:


An activation link appears in the ebook text at the appropriate spot for each enhancement. Some of my favorite ones, not shown in this trailer, are audio/only excerpts of dramatic phone conversations with President Lyndon Johnson. I helped find and select the illustrations, but I admit seeing the final enhanced ebook only on our son Franklin’s iPad. Frankly, I’m a lifelong lover of hardcover print who has not quite accepted even regular ebooks, and I don’t own a device that can handle the enhanced version.

Inevitably, there are adjustments in new technology. I am told that the enhanced version works beautifully on popular platforms except for Kindle. Because Kindles can access only the ebook text, and some Kindle readers have been disappointed not to have the A/V enhancements, Simon & Schuster issued a guideline statement: *Audio/Video content only available for iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch devices in iBooks, or a Nook color/tablet (NOT Kindle).

This too will change, and enhanced ebooks probably will expand as publishers master the difficulties of locating and licensing A/V illustrations. Already, I hope, enhancements can help bring The King Years alive for new generations of teachers, students, and general readers. An author like me can describe in words the powerful influence of music in the civil rights era, but it is something else to hear our ebook enhancement of Rutha Harris leading a 1964 freedom workshop in “This Little Light of Mine.”


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The King Years by Taylor BranchI will teach a weekly history seminar this spring term at my home town University of Baltimore. The course will explore the modern civil rights era at its transformative peak, 1954-68.

University of Baltimore

This class will be experimental and exciting for me in several respects. Most important, the in-class seminar will be accessible without charge via Web connection to a selected group of registered auditors. They will pay no fees and receive no college credit. All we seek from auditors is candid feedback about the content and delivery of this special prototype course. […]

We hope to develop for the future an in-class seminar that can be shared via the Web by an expandable group of participants from diverse places and backgrounds, registered individually or through institutions for credit. Therefore, for this trial run, the University of Baltimore will accept interested auditors from a wide variety of groups: students and teachers (high school through college), non-degree candidates, general lay readers, and specialists in subject areas from race relations and social movements to government and nonviolence.

Several of the technical departments at the University of Baltimore have cooperated to make the in-class seminar available via the Web to registered auditors simultaneously, by live-stream connection, and also by delayed retrieval and review.

I have taught a similar course several times before, most recently last spring as a visiting Honors professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. Those courses carried intensive reading assignments from texts that included my 2,306-page King-era trilogy. This new course is designed to introduce the most salient events and issues through a more compact core curriculum. The weekly readings are built around the eighteen chapters of my newly released book, The King Years, which is a 190-page guided distillation of the longer work.

Information about the book is available from my website:

Information about the course, including registration for potential auditors, is available in the official announcement by the University of Baltimore. The seminar will meet on Wednesdays from 5:30-8:00pm, starting with an introductory session on January 23.


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Washington MonthlyThe current (January 2013) issue of The Washington Monthly Magazine contains a short article by Monthly editor Haley Sweetland Edwards and me, prepared as an interview during these past few hectic weeks.

I am especially pleased to have this article published to coincide with the release of my new book, The King Years. Long ago, when I was a graduate student who had not yet even thought of a writing career, the Monthly published excerpts from the diary I kept as an awed voter registration worker in southwest Georgia during the summer of 1969. […]

Those experiences in civil rights work and journalism opened new paths for me, and in the summer of 1970, on completing my graduate work, I took my first full-time job as an editor for The Washington Monthly. Its founder, Charlie Peters, became a lifetime mentor for me (and many others) in politics and journalism.

The current Monthly article tells one of many small stories buried in our forgetful history of the civil rights era: how Martin Luther King tried and failed to get President John F. Kennedy to abolish racial segregation by executive order in January of 1963, on the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery.

Lincoln’s historic work to end slavery is very much remembered in contemporary culture through Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated film, Lincoln. The unsuccessful collaboration between MLK and JFK is only a minor echo of that history, but it is well worth remembering in this month of poignant anniversaries about racial politics in 1863, 1963, and 2013. They are sketched in last week’s publication blog for The King Years.

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Simon & Schuster has announced a publication date of January 8, 2013 for my new book, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. The timing honors a month of epic anniversaries in the unfinished history of freedom in the United States. Consider these three:

1. 150 years ago, in January of 1863, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared forever free nearly 4 million slaves then living under Confederate control. Two years later, as dramatized in the current Steven Spielberg film, Lincoln pushed through the 13th Amendment shortly before his assassination.

2. 50 years ago, in January of 1963, Democratic Governor George Wallace of Alabama delivered his defiant inaugural speech pledging, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” One century after the Civil War, Wallace tried and failed to preserve an old order of unequal rights in the midst of a citizens’ upheaval called the modern civil rights movement (1954-68).

3. Now, in January of 2013, a re-elected Barack Obama takes his oath as the first African-American President of the United States. Equal rights and opportunity have advanced broadly, perhaps miraculously in historical context, but racial issues still are muted as solved, unsolvable, or both. Group voting sharply divides the major political parties.


The King Years by Taylor BranchThis compact, 190-page book is a venture for our time of rapid change in communication. Professors and teachers long have complained that while story-telling history is accessible for their students, my multiple thick books are difficult to handle. From another angle, general readers who appreciate narrative have pressed for some distillation of key questions and lessons that have evolved over the thirty-plus years since I began research for Parting the Waters.

It was hard for me to revisit my work, in part because I believe personal detail is vital in cross-racial history. The goal here is to preserve detail from the original language of my civil rights trilogy, sometimes stitched together between volumes, achieving economy by painful selection among the stories told. There is literary blood on my office floor, but I take responsibility for the choices. Combined with new summary introductions for each chapter, which are necessarily more analytical, I aim to deliver accurate narratives that raise salient questions across the full sweep of the civil rights era.

For more information on the nature and content of The King Years, please consult Simon & Schuster’s full press release. Also, my introduction to the book is available for listening in a sample from the audio edition read by Leslie Odom, Jr. The current January 2013 issue of Atlanta Magazine contains an exchange on my personal background for the book since childhood in Atlanta. Finally, there is a January 5 pre-publication interview with Linda Wertheimer on NPR’s “Weekend Edition.”

Postings over the next few days will introduce other new projects related to the book. An enhanced digital edition, for instance, offers audio and video links to illustrate material in the text, including news footage, music, and excerpts from presidential recordings. On the educational front, I hope to build on experience as an adjunct teacher of civil rights history at Goucher College and the University of North Carolina. Starting in this spring semester of 2013, the University of Baltimore will offer to a potentially expandable group of on-line students my weekly seminar built around The King Years.

Thankfully, some things endure in the digital age. The civil rights era has kept me enthralled over a long career writing history. It remains an unsurpassed source of learning on our capacity for justice and free government.

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