Photographs of My Father

A Lost Narrative from the Civil Rights Era (With a New Afterword from the Author)



By: Paul Spike

“I still believe the hard truth can rescue us from the easy delusions of our political history and that is why I want Photographs of My Father—and the truths I learned after this book was first published—to be read today.”

$17.95

Categories: Adult | All Books | History | Memoir

Description

In 1966, a man killed civil-rights leader Rev. Robert Spike. Was it an assassination? Was it simply murder? Paul Spike attempts to rescue his father and himself with the truth.

As director of the National Council of Churches, Robert Spike had organized white-dominated churches to support the passage of both the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. Collaborating with major civil rights leaders on strategy, he helped the LBJ White House craft legislation and the President's civil rights speeches, especially on the Voting Rights Act. After he had stepped away from the political arena, he was viciously murdered in Columbus, Ohio. The murder was never solved. Very little effort went into finding the murderer. The Columbus police and the FBI hinted the unsolved murder was the brutal end of a gay relationship.

During his father's rise in the civil rights movement, Paul Spike lived a life eerily similar to Holden Caulfield's—a young intellectual lost in the labyrinth of booze, drugs, and girls. At Columbia University, he was on the fringes of the S.D.S. Movement. That rootless life ended with his father's murder.

In the Afterword of this re-issue of Photographs of My Father, Paul Spike says, "Murder is an indelible stain on a family. It never fades. This book I wrote about my father's murder was an attempt to rescue him and myself with the truth. Of course, that was not going to work like I hoped when I was 23 years old. It doesn't matter. I still believe the hard truth can rescue us from the easy delusions of our political history and that is why I want Photographs of My Father—and the truths I learned after this book was first published—to be read today. Now, after almost 50 years, I understand why I tried to do this. And why I left America. I still dream of justice for my father."

The complete text of Martin Luther King's telegram to Robert Spike's widow and two sons—

"Deeply saddened to learn of the death of our dear friend Bob Spike. His death comes as a great loss to the nation and to the fellowship of the committed. He was one of those rare individuals who sought at every point to make religion relevant to the social issues of our time. He lifted religion from the stagnant arena of pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. His brilliant and dedicated work in the National Council of Churches will be an inspiration to generations yet unborn. We will always remember his unswerving dedication to the legitimate aspirations of oppressed people for freedom and human dignity. It was my personal pleasure and sacred privilege to work closely with him in various undertakings as we continue to grapple with the ancient evils of man's inhumanity to man. We will be sustained and consoled by Bob's dedicated spirit. Please know that we share your grief at this moment and you have our deepest sympathy and most passionate prayers for strength and guidance in these trying moments."

Awards and Accomodations

New York Times, A Best Book of the Year, 1973

6 reviews for Photographs of My Father

  1. Midwest Book Review
    “Synopsis: At the National Council of Churches, Robert Spike had organized American churches to support the passage of both the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, to march in Selma and to organize in Mississippi. An important white leader in the black civil rights struggle, he helped the LBJ White House pass legislation and write crucial civil rights speeches. In the midst of what he described as “the dirtiest fight of my life” struggling to save a federal Mississippi education program, he was viciously murdered in Columbus, Ohio. The murder was never solved. Very little effort went into finding the murderer. The Columbus police and the FBI hinted the unsolved murder was connected to Spike’s undisclosed gay life.

    During his father’s rise in the civil rights movement, Paul Spike lived a life typical of a young man in the 1960s, finding his way through a labyrinth of booze, drugs, and girls. At Columbia University, he was active in the 1968 student rebellion and friends with many SDS radicals. That rootless life ended with his father’s murder.

    Critique: Intensely personal, informed and informative, Photographs of My Father by journalist, editor and author Paul Robert Spike is a consistently compelling read from beginning to end — and one that will be of very special interest for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the Civil Rights movement. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, Photographs of My Father is unreserved recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community, college, and university library 20th Century American Biography and Civil Rights History collections.”

  2. The Spectator
    Paul Spike’s memoir of the Civil rights movement of the 1960s re-released
    Photographs of my Father examines the still unsolved murder of Spike’s activist father, Rev. Spike

    By Matthew Walther

    “For the first time in living memory, a presidential candidate for a major party has received the enthusiastic endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan; one prominent former member of that fraternity — a Grand Wizard, I think: or was it a Grand Dragon? — is running for the US Senate. Members of the Black Lives Matter movement did not riot in Cleveland, but that is only because they were nearly always surrounded by troops of mounted policemen. It shouldn’t be surprising that some of us are looking back with hope and trepidation at the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

    One of the most remarkable books the movement produced is this 1973 family memoir, newly reissued with an afterword by the author. Paul Spike, an American-born old Fleet Street hand, is the son of the Rev. Robert Spike, a pastor and activist who was found bludgeoned to death by a janitor in 1966 in Columbus, Ohio. The murder of Robert, who was at the forefront of the movement as director of the National Council of Churches (he even had a hand in writing some of Lyndon Johnson’s speeches), was never solved, though it was suggested by police that his homosexual activity — hitherto unknown to his family — rather than his politics may have played a part.

    Reading Photographs of My Father is a kind of parallel Godfather II-like experience, except that the chronologies are reversed so that we witness the son’s rise, such as it is, through Columbia and therapy alongside the father’s fall from lobbying Congress and the White House to dealing with harassment from the FBI. It reminds us that if the past is a foreign country, the recent past can feel like Tristan da Cunha: Northern and Midwestern Republicans forcing Civil Rights legislation down the throats of recalcitrant Democrats in the South; Brooks Brothers-wearing Wasp clergymen with chronic digestive ailments at the vanguard of progressive activism; people taking existentialisms seriously.

    Today it is easy to laugh off the spectacle of oceanographers-turned-lady bishops who deny the divinity of Christ and hold urgent conferences on the ‘immorality’ of climate change, but the political battles fought by the Rev. Spike and other liberal Protestants half a century ago for the dignity of America’s black population were entirely laudable, whatever one thinks of their theology. (Many believers will shake their heads when they read Martin Luther King, in a telegram sent to the Spike family, praising Robert for having elevated “religion from the stagnant arena of pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities,” as if saving immortal souls were a parlor game, and at silly quotes from the latter about how “the Christian man thanks God for his sexuality.”)

    This is very much a 1960s book in the best and, occasionally, worst senses. Spike himself comes across as a kind of stoner Holden Caulfield, bored, naïve, Camus-reading, basically decent, in whose triumphs — collecting 20 rejection slips before getting a story published in the Evergreen Review — we are effortlessly persuaded to rejoice. When he moans about having to take a Chaucer survey course alongside “Projects in Imaginative and Creative Writing” at school and recounts the days when he would “sip beer and share a joint, soaking in the imagery” of Blonde on Blonde, you know exactly where you are. There is a characteristic lack of reserve — did readers, now or in 1973, need to know about Spike’s sexual fantasies involving his mother?

    This anniversary edition ends with an afterword in which Spike reviews information about Robert’s death brought to light by recent historians. He has followed names and leads to Ohio, Washington, and the online archives of the Johnson White House, but there is not much in the way of closure. After starkly pointing out that he has now “lived with [Robert’s] murder longer than I ever lived with him,” he confesses that he still has no idea who killed his father. His anger is, understandably, unabated.

    Period eccentricities and the occasional overblown metaphor (years that “stick in America’s back like daggers”) notwithstanding, Spike’s memoir is as compelling as it must have been four decades ago. It is unsurprising that he has no plans to return to the USA.”

  3. Terry Gilliam, writer, Monty Python
    “Photographs of My Father has totally consumed the last couple of days of my life, unable as I was to put it down once started. It’s absolutely wonderful.”

  4. Paul Auster
    So unforgettable that I felt my heart was breaking when I came to the end.

  5. New York Times
    So we not only believe Mr. Spike’s story and participate in its comedy, its terror, its extreme pain and ultimate triumph. We also can identify with the author to the point where we understand both his private suffering and the rage he finally vented against the system. For Mr. Spike doesn’t whine or exhort or rationalize or rail or ask for sympathy. He simply states how things were with the utmost insight and candor. —Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

  6. Hosea Williams, SCLC civil rights leader
    We don’t believe these assassinations are an accident. We believe there is a conspiracy. Too many of our most important leaders have been assassinated. John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, Dr. King, Robert Spike…

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