Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Lerone Bennett, Jr.’s What Manner of Man: A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., 19291968 is written chronologically, using a variety of written sources, both primary and secondary, as well as extensive interviews with King himself, Coretta Scott King, and other family members of the slain leader. Divided into eight chapters, the book is heavily illustrated; it has an introduction written by Benjamin Mays, who influenced King to be a minister, and a preface written by the author in 1964, in which he calls his book an “interim assessment of the man and the mood he medi-ates.” In the book’s 1976 edition, the original preface was not altered, although the revised edition profiles King up to his death. An addendum that chronologically lists King’s brushes with the law is also useful.

Bennett presents the life and times of King from his birth in Atlanta in 1929 to his death in Memphis in 1968. King is portrayed as a man who experienced racism at an early age, went to school hoping to help improve race relations in the United States one day, yet did not aspire to be the leader he later became. King, the author stresses, became a leader because the circumstances and the pressures around him forced him to do so. In this sense, he was a reluctant leader. Bennett holds King to be one of the greatest leaders the world has ever had, saying that he altered forever race relations in the United States and contributed, more than anyone else, to the substantial gains of the Civil Rights movement he led. Over and over again, the author stresses the point that King was the right person at the right time or, as he puts it, the man “at the right fork on the right road.”