Living the Dream: The Contested History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day (UNC Press, 2022) tells the history behind the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the battle over King's legacy that continued through the decades that followed. Creating the first national holiday to honor an African American was a formidable achievement and an act of resistance against conservative and segregationist opposition. Congressional efforts to commemorate King began shortly after his assassination. The ensuing political battles slowed the progress of granting him a namesake holiday and crucially defined how his legacy would be received. Though Coretta Scott King's mission to honor her husband's commitment to nonviolence was upheld, conservative politicians sought to use the holiday to advance a whitewashed, nationalistic, and even reactionary vision of King's life and thought. This book reveals the lengths that activists had to go to elevate an African American man to the pantheon of national heroes, how conservatives took advantage of the commemoration to bend the arc of King's legacy toward something he never would have expected, and how grassroots causes, unions, and antiwar demonstrators continued to try to claim this sanctified day as their own.
Daniel T. Fleming is lecturer at the University of New South Wales and an Honorary Post-Doctoral Fellow at Macquarie University.
E. James West is a UK-based historian and writer. He is the author of Ebony Magazine and Lerone Bennett Jr.: Popular Black History in Postwar America (Illinois, 2020), A House for the Struggle: The Black Press and the Built Environment in Chicago (Illinois, 2022) and Our Kind of Historian: The Work and Activism of Lerone Bennett Jr. (UMass, 2022).