Nine Days: The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.'s Life and Win the 1960 Election (Paperback)
“[An] inspiring book about the events leading up to the 1960 election, from Dr. King’s imprisonment to student activism in Atlanta to JFK’s campaign. It’s a story we can all learn from—a story of overlooked heroes and the power each of us has to create change.” —Barack Obama
One of O, The Oprah Magazine’s best books of February 2021
The authors of Douglass and Lincoln present fully for the first time the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s imprisonment in the days leading up to the 1960 presidential election and the efforts of three of John F. Kennedy’s civil rights staffers who went rogue to free him—a move that changed the face of the Democratic Party and propelled Kennedy to the White House.
Less than three weeks before the 1960 presidential election, thirty-one-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested at a sit-in at Rich’s department store in Atlanta. That day would lead to the first night King ever spent in jail, and the time when King’s family most feared for his life.
A previous $25 traffic ticket was used as an excuse to keep King in custody after the other sit-in participants had been freed—and to sentence the young minister to four months of hard labor at the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, where Black inmates worked on chain gangs overseen by violent white guards. While King’s imprisonment was decried as a moral scandal in some quarters and celebrated in others, for the two presidential candidates, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, it was the ultimate October surprise: an emerging and controversial civil rights leader was languishing behind bars, and the two campaigns raced to decide whether, and how, to respond.
Stephen Kendrick and Paul Kendrick’s Nine Days tells the incredible story of what happened next. In 1960, the civil rights movement was growing increasingly inventive and energized while white politicians favored the corrosive tactics of silence and stalling. But an audacious team in the Kennedy campaign’s Civil Rights Section decided to act. In a contest in which Black voters seemed poised to split their votes between the candidates, the leaders of the CRS—the pioneering Black journalist Louis Martin, the future Pennsylvania senator Harris Wofford, and the Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver—convinced Kennedy to agitate for King’s release, sometimes even going behind the Kennedy brothers’ backs in their quest to secure his freedom. Their actions over the next nine days would end up deciding one of the closest elections in American history.
Based on new interviews with firsthand witnesses and extensive archival research, Nine Days recounts the first time King refused bail and came to terms with the dangerous course of his mission to change a nation. At once a story of electoral machinations, moral courage, and, ultimately, the triumph of a future president’s better angels, Nine Days is a gripping tale with important lessons for our own time.
Stephen Kendrick is the author of Holy Clues: The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes and Night Watch (a novel). His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Hartford Current, American Heritage, Huffington Post, and Utne Reader. He has coauthored with Paul Kendrick Douglass and Lincoln: How a Revolutionary Black Leader and a Reluctant Liberator Struggled to End Slavery and Save the Union and Sarah’s Long Walk: The Free Blacks of Boston and How Their Struggle for Equality Changed America.