Martin Luther King, Jr.

7 titles researching Dr. King's life, influence, and achievements.

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If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Bagley, Edythe Scott. Desert rose: the life and legacy of Coretta Scott King, by Edythe Scott Bagley with Joe Hilley. Alabama, 2012. 318p ISBN 9780817317652, $34.95; ISBN 9780817386122 ebook, contact publisher for price. 
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2013

Lovingly written by her older sister, Coretta King’s biography has some of the strengths and weaknesses of an autobiography. It has a simple chronological narrative style and is filled with details about Coretta as a person and about Martin and the civil rights movement. Coretta was an activist for justice and peace not only because of her marriage to King. Her parents, ministers, and teachers in Lincoln School and Antioch College nurtured in her courage and conscience. When Martin was assassinated, Coretta stepped into her husband’s place and completed the march in Memphis, even before the funeral. In the 38 years that she lived after the assassination, Coretta’s tireless efforts had three main goals: to establish The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta; to establish the MLK federal holiday; and to promote world peace. Readers get to know a graceful, strong woman who greatly appreciated the arts. The book barely mentions how Coretta dealt with rumors of Martin’s infidelities. For all interested in Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement, and US women’s history. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —P. Manian, San Jose City College


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Branch, Taylor. At Canaan’s edge: America in the King years, 1965-68. Simon & Schuster, 2006. 1,039p ISBN 068485712X, $35.00. 
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2006

Branch brings to conclusion his remarkable biography of Martin Luther King Jr. (Parting the Waters, CH, Jun’89, 26-5831; Pillar of Fire, 1999) with this exhaustively researched and compellingly written volume that powerfully sets forth a portrait of King as a critically important figure in post-WW II US history. The book covers the last three years of King’s life, proceeding from a comprehensive treatment of Selma to his martyrdom at Memphis. Branch throws into clear relief the passionate dedication, tactical flexibility, and charisma that King brought to his leadership role. His book shows that civil rights, economic justice, and antimilitarism were connected elements of King’s ministry, from which he would not be shaken. Branch is candid about the reality that King, subject to immense pressures, was not without frailties. Surely personal weaknesses made him vulnerable to attack, but he never bartered away his convictions. When dealing with King’s response to the Vietnam War, Branch is overly restrained in his treatment of Lyndon Johnson, but he is unsparing in his indictment of racist J. Edgar Hoover’s vendetta. That Hoover was kept on for decades as FBI director is a rebuke to much of this nation’s political leadership. Branch has made a memorable contribution to historical scholarship that merits the widest possible readership. Summing Up: Essential. Every public and academic library. —H. Shapiro, University of Cincinnati


Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Dorrien, Gary J. Breaking white supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the black social gospel. Yale, 2017 (c2018). 610p index ISBN 9780300205619, $45.00; ISBN 9780300231359 ebook, contact publisher for price. 
Reviewed in CHOICE  July 2018

This massive, thoroughly researched volume is the second of Dorrien’s two-part study of the history of the black social gospel tradition. In the first volume, The New Abolition: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Black Social Gospel (CH, Feb’16, 53-2606), Dorrien examined the long history of the tradition in the 19th and early-20th centuries, culminating in Du Bois’s “lover’s quarrel” (as Dorrien calls it) with the black church. In this magisterial followup, Dorrien (social ethics, Union Theological Seminary; religion, Columbia Univ.) focuses on the intellectual forces that produced Martin Luther King Jr. In the first part of the book Dorrien examines the major carriers of black social “gospelism” in the first half of the 20th century, including Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, Benjamin Mays, Howard Thurman, and Adam Clayton Powell. In the second part he examines King and the movement, noting especially King’s growing radicalism and anger. He concludes with discussion of Pauli Murray, whose message, like King’s, resonates today. This is intellectual history at its finest; acknowledging his own choices, the author calls for others to fill in the social history of the black gospel. A triumph of careful scholarship, rigorous argument, clear prose, unblinking judgments, and groundbreaking conclusions, this two-part study is an indispensable resource on American religious history. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —P. Harvey, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs


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Levingston, Steven. Kennedy and King: the president, the pastor, and the battle over civil rights. Hachette Books, 2017. 511p bibl index ISBN 9780316267397, $28.00; ISBN 9780316267403 ebook, contact publisher for price. 
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2018

The quiet, reserved Martin Luther King, Jr. worked tirelessly to bring the ebullient, extroverted John F. Kennedy to see civil rights as a moral crusade demanding the same urgency the president devoted to the economy and foreign affairs. Needing southern support, Kennedy moved cautiously, while King, the pastor, educator, and activist, chided him for not acting forcefully. King knew the press covered his every word and that the president would read about it. As government inaction caused King to move toward militant protest, he unsuccessfully urged Kennedy to accept a second emancipation proclamation. The violence in Albany, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama, along with the attempts to desegregate the universities of Alabama and Mississippi, brought into focus the division between states’ rights and federal power, forcing Kennedy to accept the moral imperative that brought on the civil rights bill. Though neither universally accepted nor always successful, together King and Kennedy altered the American landscape to create legislation moving the nation closer to the Declaration of Independence’s acknowledgement that all are created equal, “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” This book is a must read for understanding the civil rights movement. Summing Up: Essential. All public and academic levels/libraries. —D. R. Jamieson, Ashland University


I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Internet Resource.
https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2010

[Visited Feb’10] In 2005, Stanford University professor Clayborne Carson, lifelong civil rights activist, established the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Twenty years earlier, Coretta Scott King asked Carson to direct a project preserving and editing her husband’s papers; this is one of the major initiatives of the institute. Its other main concern is to further King’s civil rights work of hope and reconciliation. Perhaps best known for his work with television’s Eyes on the Prize series, Carson has published widely on various aspects of the civil rights movement, which helps to ensure both the institute’s quality and reliability. Its focus on King notwithstanding, the Web site’s coverage of civil rights is comprehensive. Well organized and interactive, it is easy to navigate from topic to topic. One of the main entries is King Resources, which includes the King Online Encyclopedia. There users find more than 1,000 entries, from “Ralph Abernathy” to “Andrew Young.” In addition to links within the essays, a sidebar directs users to related encyclopedia entries. While very user-friendly and seemingly comprehensive, the encyclopedia has no entry for “Black Panthers,” although the Panthers are mentioned in some articles and there are entries for “Black Nationalism” and “Black Power.” Students and teachers will find the Liberation Curriculum especially useful. The lesson plans, prepared by classroom teachers, are very thorough and easily followed, and focus on the history of civil rights events as well as nonviolent ways to work for social justice and human rights. The negatives are few, although two are important. First, while there is an audio of King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, there is no video. Second, the scrolling photo on the upper right of the home page is distracting. Despite these, undergraduate students will find much of value here. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —D. R. Jamieson, Ashland University


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Miller, W. Jason. Origins of the dream: Hughes’s poetry and King’s rhetoric. University Press of Florida, 2015. 249p bibl index afp ISBN 9780813060446, $34.95. 
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2015

In volume 2 of his The Life of Langston Hughes (CH, Feb’89, 26-3155), Arnold Rampersad suggested that Martin Luther King Jr. was well aware of the poetry of Langston Hughes and sometimes recited Hughes’s poems in his sermons and speeches.  Miller (English, North Carolina State Univ.) documents how extensively King utilized the poems and vocabulary of Hughes.  Certainly King was inspired by the “American dream.”  However, King often recited Hughes’s “Mother to Son” and commented that life for black people was no “crystal stair.” He borrowed from and paraphrased “Let America Be America Again”: “let it be the dream that the dreamers dreamed.” He borrowed from “What Happens to a Dream Deferred” when he alluded to shattered dreams and deferred dreams. He also borrowed from “I Dream a World.”  This brilliant, thoroughly researched book shows how King often had to hide direct mention of Hughes even as he borrowed from his dream motif, because J. Edgar Hoover maintained that Hughes was a communist.  Miller’s book will help correct the historical amnesia that has for too long blotted out recognition of the cultural continuity between Hughes and King.  A masterpiece. Summing Up: Essential. All readers. —W. Glasker, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden


Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Raboteau, Albert J. American prophets: seven religious radicals and their struggle for social and political justice. Princeton, 2016. 224p index afp ISBN 9780691164304, $29.95; ISBN 9781400874408 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2017

Growing out of a course Raboteau (emer., Princeton) taught to a generation of students, American Prophets narrates a landscape of 20th-century prophetic voices. Written in lucid prose, Raboteau’s seven luminous biographical sketches of such figures as Abraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, and Thomas Merton tell a radical story. Part of this story is theological. Raboteau insists that prophetic voices cannot be understood separate from their capacity for “divine pathos,” in which a deep sympathy with God translates into bonds of fellowship with human suffering. Raboteau illuminates the historical and social connections that his radicals had with one another. Dorothy Day, A. J. Muste, and Howard Thurman were all in dialogue through the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Heschel, King, and Merton corresponded and referenced one another intimately. Raboteau’s account runs against conventional accounts of the prophetic mantle as lonely. He presents the office of the prophet as profoundly social and communal, working toward building coalitions of activists ready to work for change. That the sites of prophetic struggle during the 20th century—racialized injustice—persist in the 21st century is sobering. Raboteau’s book forces a question: is there an emerging tradition of 21st-century prophets riveted by divine pathos and a collective endeavor of justice? Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —J. Kahn, Vassar College