Ten Essential Books on Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we begin the second decade of the twenty-first century, the celebration of the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. provides us with lessons and insight into many of the problems we face in the twenty-first century. To be sure, most of the problems of the twenty-first century have their roots in the twentieth century and are issues which King addressed. For example, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan parallel the War in Vietnam which King was outspoken opponent and voice his opposition in his address at Riverside Church in New York April 4, 1967, exactly a year before he was assassinated.  His critique and criticism of the Vietnam War- the madness of the militarism and the immorality of American violence (King call America the greatest purveyor of violence in the world) – seems applicable to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today’s financial crisis and the government’s response to the crisis, in particular the Depression-like levels of unemployment in black, brown and poor communities are theme which King undertook in the final days of his life with his planned Poor People’s Campaign.  The issue of crime and violence in America’s urban cities was expressed repeatedly in King’s writings and speeches.

In light of the importance of Martin Luther King to America and the world, we have organized and selected the essential books which best articulate his work, philosophy and legacy.
Strength to Love
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Through this collection of sermons there is struck again and again the note that it is the obligation of Christians to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecute them.

Why We Can’t Wait
Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1963, Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. launched the Civil Rights movement and demonstrated to the world the power of nonviolent direct action. Why We Can’t Wait recounts not only the Birmingham campaign, but also examines the history of the civil rights struggle and the tasks that future generations had to accomplish to bring about full equality for African Americans.

Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King’s penultimate book provides a snapshot of where we were in 1967. Two turning points had been reached. First, his program of nonviolent direct action was clearly winning the struggle against old fashioned southern segregation, and Dr. King was looking toward the next step. He believed that the next logical step toward setting people free was a massive government program addressing the problem of poverty.

To The Mountaintop
Stewart Burns

To The Mountaintop is a spiritual history of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement-a history of King’s “sacred mission to save America.” This book reads like a novel and will captivate the reader.  Thoroughly researched, Burns chronicles an extraordinary period in American History. He highlights the spiritual drama which came to define the Civil Rights movement and twentieth–century America.

 A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Clayborne Carson

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the Civil Rights movement, inspiring generations of Americans and transforming the future of the United States. In his speeches, Dr. King expressed his hope that one day all people, regardless of race or nationality, would be accepted. His belief that nonviolent protest is the key to democracy and his assertion that all humans are created equal are as timeless and powerful today as they were nearly 50 years ago.

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Clayborne Carson

This history-making autobiography is Martin Luther King in his own words: the mild-mannered, inquisitive child and student who chafed under and eventually rebelled against segregation; the dedicated young minister who continually questioned the depths of his faith and the limits of his wisdom; the loving husband and father who sought to balance his family’s needs with those of a growing, nationwide movement; and the reflective, world-famous leader who was fired by a vision of equality for people everywhere.

April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Death And How It Changed America
Michael Eric Dyson
On April 4, 1968, at 6: 01 PM, while he was standing on a balcony at a Memphis hotel, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and fatally wounded. Only hours earlier King, the prophet for racial and economic justice in America, ended his final speech with the words, “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.” Acclaimed public intellectual and best-selling author Michael Eric Dyson uses the fortieth anniversary of King’s assassination as the occasion for a provocative and fresh examination of how King fought, and faced, his own death, and we should use his death and legacy.
 
I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr.
Michael Eric Dyson
As the saying goes, there is always a gap between heroes as celebrated and historical reality, but Michael Eric Dyson’s lively and penetrating book I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr. is guaranteed to shock and as well as surprise many readers, revealing a King that has been suppressed and whitewashed with his brilliant analysis of the gap (and the complex reasons for it) as well as the man.

King’s Dream
Eric J. Sundquist
“I have a dream” is the refrain by which the speech is known — better known to Americans today than any other speech, even the Gettysburg Address. (In 2008, according to one study, 97 percent of American teenagers recognized the words as King’s.) But for all its familiarity and indisputable greatness, the origins and larger meaning of the speech are not generally understood. The speech and all that surrounds it — background and consequences — are brought magnificently to life in Eric Sund¬quist’s new book, “King’s Dream.”

I have a Dream: Writing and Speeches That Changed The World
James M. Washington

In this book, Martin Luther King’s twenty most memorable writings and speeches are presented in a concise and convenient package.  Among the famed civil rights leader’s most influential words included here are the keynote address of the 1963 mach on Washington: the “I Have a Dream’ speech, “Letter form a Birmingham Jail, the essay “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”, and “I See the Promise Land, ” the sermon he preached the night before he was assassinated.

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