When we want to beatify great moral and civic leaders we inscribe their names in holidays and their likenesses in stone. But King wasn’t a saint who can be so easily dismissed; he was a prophet whose luminous life and thundering words should still unsettle us, like an electrical storm about to break.
King published five books in his lifetime; a sixth was released after he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968 at the age of thirty-nine. Stride Toward Freedom (1958) tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Measure of a Man (1959) is a slim volume explaining the theological and philosophical roots of nonviolent activism. Why We Can’t Wait (1964) is a history of the civil rights movement in general, and the 1963 Birmingham Campaign in particular. This book includes his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which was addressed to eight clergymen and urged the church to join the struggle for racial justice.
King’s 1967 book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? is a clear-eyed look at the state of race relations at a moment when the civil rights movement was in disarray. The book also makes a provocative connection between the bankrupt ideology of systemic discrimination, and the literal impoverishment of millions of Americans, white and black.… Read the rest