What Manner of Man Essay - Critical Context

Lerone Bennett Jr.

Critical Context

Bennett is a well-known African-American writer whose work has attempted to popularize the experiences of African-American people in the United States. Beginning in the late 1950’s he also served as executive editor of Ebony magazine. His style is direct, poignant, and clear and is geared toward a wide readership (many biographers of King have addressed their work primarily to college-educated readers or scholars). The straightforward style and the dramatic photographs, particularly those of King with his family, as well as the fact that the author emphasizes how much King loved his children and always tried to find time to spend with them, enhance the book’s appeal to younger readers. In addition, the various passages focusing in detail on King as a child and on his student years provide an important emotional dimension that should attract young readers.

The fact that the author knew King and was himself involved in the Civil Rights movement makes his work more credible. Bennett heard King’s speeches and interviewed the civil rights leader and his family, especially Coretta King, and followed his civil rights marches. Because King left such an indelible mark on the Civil Rights movement, the book was quite popular during the 1970’s; it has become one of the most quoted sources on King’s life. The title itself has struck a chord with many analysts and readers, some of whom have wondered whether the author was evoking the image of Christ, about whom Jews and Gentiles asked “what manner of man” was Jesus. For youngsters, however, the fact that the author stresses the positive rather than the negative in King’s character and portrays him as a hero murdered by the very society that he was attempting to free from violence and bigotry gives this biography a special appeal.