This book first appeared in 1970 in Moscow.
It was written on the basis of personal observations and experience, for the author had the opportunity, as New York correspondent of the Soviet newspaper Izvestia during the 1960s, to come to know America and the Americans. In the course of his work he naturally endeavoured to understand the serious and complex issues involved in the struggle by black Americans for human and civil rights. Inevitably, he became interested in the magnetic personality of Martin Luther King.
King was both made and broken by US society. He was assassinated at the age of only 39 years. But he had already become an historic figure and a great American by the time of his death. Despite the events that have taken place since then and the well-known inclination of Americans to live in the present, forgetting or wiping out the past, King is not forgotten. His name still resounds powerfully on the American public stage and beyond the bounds of the United States. Martin Luther King is clearly assured of a prominent, honoured and enduring place in the history of his country and the history of the 20th century’s emancipation movements.
The Russian poet Alexander Blok once observed that a poet has a destiny, not a career. His insight is unquestionably true of poets. However, it is much rarer for public figures to have destinies rather than careers. Martin Luther King was one such figure.
The personality of Martin Luther King stirred the author both as journalist and private citizen while King was still alive. His tragic death in Memphis was a violent shock and a powerful stimulus to the author to tell Soviet readers of their remarkable contemporary. This became a dictate of the author’s conscience. At the same time, he realised that King’s story was too large to fit the confines of a newspaper: it could only be the subject of a book. There is much that is personal in the resultant work, for as the author came to know Martin Luther King he also came, in some measure, to know himself and his time. Great men, like torches, light up the world around them.
The size of a man is shown by the cause he pursues and for which he is ready to give his life. Martin Luther King struggled against all forms of oppression and racial discrimination. He dreamed that “one day … sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to Sit down together at the table of brotherhood”.
Did his dream come true? Only another book, a book about the black citizens of the United States in the 1970s, could answer that question. In the author’s view, the liberation movement of black Americans, after winning equal rights for black people, lost the driving force it had in the 1960s, leaving each person to achieve real equality as best he could beneath the discriminatory sun of private enterprise.
What, then, did Doctor King accomplish? A lot. He compelled American society to look with fresh eyes at its black fellow citizens. He aroused in black Americans a feeling of self-respect, pride and confidence in their own strength. Finally, he achieved something to which, perhaps, he never gave thought. He himself became an example for those in whose eyes, as he expressed it, “beauty is truth and truth beauty—and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold”.