Even though I grew up in a predominantly white city, I was always taught that people were people regardless of their color. Of course not everyone felt that way, but most people did. There was the occasional name-calling and ethnic jokes, but it seemed more immature than serious. I grew up on the poorer side of town and had a few friends who were black or Mexican or Japanese, and even though there were sometimes small differences between us, none of it really mattered. We were all just kids. So I'm always a little uncomfortable reading about violent discrimination. I know it exists, but it seemed like something from history - not something that happened in my lifetime. At least not in it's uglier manifestations.
In the late afternoon hours of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by a single gunshot fired from a distance. The manhunt for his assassin would be the largest in American history and cover two continents and five countries. King had been drawn to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers after two men were crushed to death in a garbage truck accident. His assassin was drawn to Memphis by racism and a desire to kill King. In the end the manhunt led to a drifter who had escaped from prison in a breadbox nearly a year before, and would culminate sixty-five days later when he was apprehended by Scotland Yard detectives in London.
But Sides weaves the story of Galt/Ray into the mission of Martin Luther King and his fading civil rights campaign. The non-violence movement was splintering under the frustration of others such as Jesse Jackson, and the initial march in Memphis had gone terribly awry further undermining his Poor People's Campaign. J. Edgar Hoover hovers on the sidelines as well, as the adversary who had relentlessly spied on King to being responsible to hunt down his killer. Sides is careful to stick to the facts - mentioning but not veering off into conspiracy theories - which results in a story that's incredibly believable and impossible to put down. The account of King's shooting is extremely sad, and I was embarrassed by the discrimination of the time (I would have been crawling around in diapers when the assassination happened). But it was a fascinating part of history which I had largely ignored and a book which I strongly recommend.