About My Books . . .
Marching to the Mountaintop
· Publication date: January 10, 2012
"I've been to the mountaintop . . . And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"
On Wednesday, April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered one of the most stirring speeches of his career. His vision of the promised land and his confidence that it could be reached was for his audience the essence of what it would mean for a dream to come alive. They were the sanitation workers of Memphis, Tennessee, a group of poor African-American men who had spent their lives being treated like garbage. The men were completing week eight of a strike to improve working conditions—eight brutal weeks of being stonewalled after a lifetime of being ignored. King galvanized them and gave them hope. But not 24 hours later, he was dead, killed by an assassin's bullet.
The Memphis strikers—and the world—were left behind. Left to struggle to that elusive mountaintop and the promised land beyond.
Rich with primary source quotations, archival material, and newly uncovered images, Marching to the Mountaintop reads like a conversation with history. In award-winning author Ann Bausum's skillful hands, it's a conversation that readers will find gripping, because it's a history that defines our nation's heart and soul.
I'm an organized, hard-working person. I work at my desk almost every day, at least for a few hours, and before I leave my office I determine my goals for the next day's labor. I've learned that this 30-second review helps me wake up focused and ready to go, an important mindset to have as someone who writes at home and could just as easily find plenty of laundry, bookkeeping, or housework to do upon waking.
So it was for me on Thursday, December 16, 2010, when I woke up with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., in my head: "We, as a people, will get to the promised land." Related phrases tumbled out of sleepy recollection. "Inch toward freedom." "Creep toward justice." "We as a people will get there." I scrambled in the dark to find a pencil and paper, knowing from experience that no matter how well I might be able to convince myself that I would remember them, the words would otherwise vanish by morning. (Just like other authors, I keep scraps of paper and pencil by my bed, in my coat pockets, in my car, etc., so that I am armed when inspiration strikes.)
It would be three months before I returned to those pages and completed the afterword for Marching to the Mountaintop. First I had to write the rest of the book. And I had to finish my research for the project—which is what I had been doing before inspiration struck. When I was ready to finish the afterword, I pulled out my work from December, including that original set of scribbles. I knew my early writing was just a beginning, but it was invaluable, and a phrase or two that I had seized from sleep did find their way into the final text. (See page 91 of the book.) More importantly, though, the emotion of that inspiration, and the idea of using the words from King's "Mountaintop" speech as part of a closing refrain, can be traced to that sleepy moment in December when I grabbed hold of inspiration and did not let it go.
Travel can be inspiring, too. I am including a few snapshots from my research trips to Memphis so that you can see some of the places where I found inspiration during my travels.
Author program. Follow this link to find out about an author program related to this book. The program is called "Labor Fights, Civil Rights, and the Death of Martin Luther King, Jr." General information about Author Visits is available, too.
African American Odyssey
Library of Congress online exhibit
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
"AFSCME and Dr. King"
The Commercial Appeal
online archive of 1968 news stories
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
We Shall Overcome
Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement
National Park Service Travel Itinerary
Going Down Jericho Road—The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign by Michael K. Honey. W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.
Hellhound on His Trail—The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin by Hampton Sides. Doubleday, 2010.
I Am a Man—Photographs of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memphis Publishing Company, 1993.
If I Had a Hammer—Songs of Hope and Struggle performed by Pete Seeger, Smithsonian Folkways, 1998.
I Have a Dream—Writings and Speeches that Changed the World by Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington. HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.
I'm Gonna Let It Shine—A Gathering of Voices for Freedom by Round River Records, 1990.
M.L.K.—Journey of a King by Tonya Bolden. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2007.