The Kneeling Man

My Father's Life as a Black Spy Who Witnessed the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

April 2023 9781787389243 304 pp
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In the famous photograph of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, one man kneels beside him, trying to staunch the blood: an undercover Memphis police officer embedded with the Invaders, a militant Black group in talks with King. This spy, the kneeling man, was Leta McCollough Seletzky’s father.

Marrell ‘Mac’ McCollough was a Black man working secretly with the white power structure. To understand this, Leta began looking into her father’s life—his motivations, his career with the police and the CIA, and the truth behind accusations of his involvement in King’s murder. What would Leta uncover, and did she want to know? How might Mac’s story change her own feelings about her place in Trump’s America?

The Kneeling Man is a compelling personal and political tale of alienation and ambivalence; struggle, self-definition and compromised choices. Set vividly in the sharecropper South, on the streets of Memphis and in the halls of power, the twists and turns of this one man’s life tell the story of twentieth-century Black America.


Seletzky’s approach is nuanced, weaving her father’s story and its many loose threads into her own.’ —  Kirkus Reviews

‘A nuanced and insightful look at the complex spaces African Americans have navigated in the pursuit of racial justice.’ — Publishers Weekly

‘A searing portrait of a man divided between his country and his identity. At once historical and timely, Seletzky gifts us a captivating, charged and wholly nuanced narrative that grips you from the first page and does not let go.’  — Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, author of The RevisionersA Kind of Freedom; and On the Rooftop

‘Mr. McCollough is one of those unsung American heroes either ignored or forgotten by history. The telling of his unique story is inspiring and revelatory. I wholeheartedly recommend Ms. Seletzky’s wonderful, thought-provoking memoir.’ — Ron Stallworth, author of Black Klansman

‘Millions recognize the photo, but hardly anyone knows the fascinating story of the man at its centre: undercover cop Marrell McCollough, in all his complexity and humanity. This deeply engrossing narrative is both an important work of history and an unforgettable family story.’ — David J. Garrow, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Bearing the Cross and The F.B.I. and Martin Luther King, Jr.

‘An important and moving book that everyone should read. Seletzky is a talent.’ —Molly Jong-Fast, former editor-at-large, The Daily Beast, and author of The Social Climber’s Handbook

‘A brave book. Seletzky’s deep dive, engaging with the harsh realities of the historical South and the civil rights era, deftly links her present with her father’s past by seeking the truth about both, no matter how untidy or unpleasant.’ — W. Ralph Eubanks, author of A Place Like Mississippi and Ever Is a Long Time

‘A spy thriller, an intimate family portrait and an extraordinary inquiry, causing us to think and feel in equal measure. Painstakingly researched and absolutely riveting, this is one of those rare books that feel electric before you read the first page and long after you’ve set it down. We’ll be talking about this book for a long time.’ – Lauren Hough, bestselling author of Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing

‘A spellbinding account. With gorgeous prose and emotional honesty, Seletzky brings us on her journey to uncover deeply hidden family secrets and better understand our own.’ — Jennifer Taub, author of Big Dirty Money and Other People’s Houses


Leta McCollough Seletzky is a National Endowment for the Arts 2022 Creative Writing Fellow. A litigator turned essayist and memoirist, she has written for The Atlantic; The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine; and The Washington Post. She grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and lives in Walnut Creek, California.

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