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Communication Professor Gary Selby Authors New Book
Gary S. Selby, Blanche E. Seaver Professor in Communication, authored a new book titled Martin Luther King and the Rhetoric of Freedom: The Exodus Narrative in America's Struggle for Civil Rights. Published by Baylor University Press, the book explores the way that King and other leaders invoked the Exodus story, so prominent in African American culture, in order to create the sense that participants in the Civil Rights movement were reliving the miraculous story in their own day.
Based on a close analysis of the movement's public discourse from 1955 to 1963, Selby argues that the Exodus played a crucial role in the development of the Civil Rights movement, providing protesters with a sense of identity as the people of God, theologically justifying their protest, and explaining both their successes and their setbacks. The Exodus placed King in the undisputed role as the movement's Moses and provided the symbolic context out of which the march emerged as the movement's principle means of mass protest, a form of demonstration whose meaning for the protesters was integrally related to the biblical story. Most of all, Selby argues, the Exodus story assured protesters that they would ultimately be successful in their journey to the Promised Land of racial justice.
The book has received high praise from prominent scholars in a variety of disciplines. David J. Garrow, University of Cambridge professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, praised the book for offering "some of the most original, perceptive, and insightful analysis of King's rhetoric and role that has appeared in the last twenty years. Martin Luther King and the Rhetoric of Freedom is essential reading for every attentive student of Dr. King's life." Keith Miller, professor of English at Arizona State University called the book "the finest and most thorough treatment of this topic ever produced." Michael Osborn, Professor Emeritus of Communication at the University of Memphis, wrote that it "surprises the reader with discoveries" and "draws out King's use of the Exodus in a manner that provides unsuspected depth of meaning and understanding."