(Blogger’s Note—This is the 6th updated version of this list.)
While it is always instructive to watch a rebroadcast or listen to a recording of the I Have A Dream speech, there is a next level for someone who wants to better understand Martin Luther King and his message.
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr asked serious questions about America as a war criminal nation in Vietnam. He asked if America merited divine judgement as a wicked nation of racism and social inequality. These questions are as relevant as ever as America is engaged in endless war and as income inequality grows.
It is within your power to bring about a better world. You have the ability to understand complex things. Learn about what a true prophet of justice Martin Luther King Jr was in our society. After you learn more about Dr. King, take action yourself to address the great pressing social problems of American life, and to address adverse conditions in our world as a whole.
Here is an admittedly incomplete, but I hope useful, Martin Luther King viewing, visiting, listening, and reading list.
An excellent book is Martin & Malcolm & America—A Dream Or A Nightmare by James H. Cone. This book follows the words and the careers of both these men. The premise of the book, which holds up in the telling, is that Dr. King and Malcolm X were not as far apart as often portrayed. Malcolm was a man with a broader vision than one of simple racial solidarity, and King was in many respects a fierce and almost apocalyptic critic of America.
( Below–Martin & Malcolm)
I’m glad to say I bought my copy of Cone’s book at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia. This site is operated by the National Park Service. You can tour Martin Luther King’s boyhood home at this location. You’ll also want to tour the Auburn Avenue Historic District around the King home.
(Below—Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. This was King’s home church.)
In Washington, when you visit the Lincoln Memorial (photo below), you can find a small marker indicating the exact spot where Rev. King made the “Dream” speech. It is a good place to stand.
Bearing The Cross was the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner for biography. You can’t help but feel the deep-sea like pressure on Dr. King in the final years of his life. I wondered if towards the end of his life King felt death would be the only true escape from the exhaustion, the misunderstandings and the conflicts.
An interesting DVD is King–Man Of Peace In A Time Of War. Much of the hour long presentation is a rehash of King biography. What makes this special is a roughly 15 minute interview Dr. King did with afternoon television host Mike Douglas. Mr. Douglas asked tough questions about Dr. King’s stance against the Vietnam War and about the effect of that opposition on the Civil Rights movement. Dr. King is calm, cool and collected. You could see how King was a leader who could speak anywhere and to anyone.
A solid explanation of Reverend King’s theology and a good analysis on the failure of Southern segregationists to mount an even more aggressive opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, can be found in A Stone Of Hope—Prophetic Religion And The Death Of Jim Crow by David L. Chappell.
A Testament Of Hope—The Essential Writings And Speeches Of Martin Luther King, Jr is needed for a complete King library. In honesty I’ve always found this book to be sprawling and without clear focus. It consists of King sermons, some interviews and excerpts from his books. You might want it on your bookshelf , but there are more concise ways to get at the “essential” King.
(Photo below is Rev. King with Coretta Scott King.)
New Listings for 2009—
A quality children’s book on King is Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. The writing in this book is clear and concise and respectful of the intellect of children. It’s a great introduction to King and a gateway to further studies by young people.
A comprehensive examination of King’s radical views on economic questions can be found in From Civil Rights to Human Rights—Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice by Thomas F. Jackson. King had leanings towards forms of socialism and came to see the fight for fair wages as an essential element in the fight for full human rights. It should not be forgotten that King died in Memphis fighting for striking sanitation workers.
A web resource to learn about King is the Martin Luther King, Jr, Research and Education Institute that is run by Stanford University. There are King sermons and addresses you can read and a link to a King Online Encyclopedia. (These things said, there is nothing as good as having you own printed collection of King sermons that you can take anywhere.)
New Listings for 2010—
Beacon Publishing in Boston has re-released two titles written by King. The books are available in both paperback and hardcover and are attractively presented.
The titles are—
Beacon describes Where Do We Go From Here in this way—
“In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., isolated himself from the demands of the civil rights movement, rented a house in Jamaica with no telephone, and labored over his final manuscript. In this significantly prophetic work, which has been unavailable for more than ten years, we find King’s acute analysis of American race relations and the state of the movement after a decade of civil rights efforts. Here he lays out his thoughts, plans, and dreams for America’s future, including the need for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, and quality education. With a universal message of hope that continues to resonate, King demanded an end to global suffering, powerfully asserting that humankind-for the first time-has the resources and technology to eradicate poverty.”
Construction has begun in Washington of a King Memorial on the National Mall. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2011.
New Listings for 2011–
King–-The Photobiography Of Martin Luther King, Jr by Charles Johnson and Bob Adelman is a top-notch photo record of the life of Rev. King. It’s necessary that you read Dr King’s words and understand what he was saying. It also has great value to see King as he battled the Southern sheriffs and as he marched with the people.
Powerful Days—The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore helps place Dr. King in context as part of a much larger movement. We can’t forget that the Civil rights movement was, when all was said and done, led by average Americans who demanded that our nation finally live up to its founding ideas.
Going Down Jericho Road–The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign by Michael Honey reminds us that King died in Memphis fighting for the rights and wages of city sanitation workers. As I write this in early 2011, public employees are being blamed by some for the economic hard times we are facing. Don’t be tricked. Public employees are our fellow working people and Martin Luther King gave his life to make sure that they would be treated with dignity and respect.
New Listings for 2012—
Malcolm X–A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable was one of the N.Y. Times best books of 2011. It offers a new and expanded view on another great figure of the civil rights era.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is consistent with the focus of King’s final years on economic inequality. I cannot know for sure, but I believe King would have strongly supported Occupy Wall Street. Economic justice was an essential part of Martin Luther King’s work.
The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth died in 2011. Rev. Shuttlesworth was a leader of the Birmingham Civil Rights campaign. Here is Shuttlesworth’s obit from The Birmingham News. This link also ofers additional links to learn more about the Birmingham campaign.
New Listings for 2013—
The 2005 Citizen King video from the American Experience series on PBS can be watched in parts on You Tube. This 2 hour presentation focuses on the last 5 years of King’s life. It is well worth your time.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute tells the story of the black experience in that city and of the famous civil rights struggles that took place in Birmingham. The center also focuses on the fight for human dignity all over the world. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the opening ceremonies of the Institute in 1992. If life takes you to Birmingham, this is the place to go.
A book that a made a great impact on me in recent years was John Brown–Abolitionist by David S. Reynolds. Brown is one of the very few people I’ve ever read about who saw all people as full equals. That he was able to do this in the 19th century makes this accomplishment all the more amazing. Brown was a prophet.
There are three reference sources on Dr. King that stand out as best.
Here are the three—
Strength To Love is the best collection King sermons. It is a concise manageable book. You can cram it in your back pocket or in your purse. ( A larger purse at least.) I think you could read nothing but this one 158 page book, and know everything you need to know about Martin Luther King.
The audio collection of King’s sermons called A Knock At Midnight might change your life. Stick the CD’s in your car stereo or listen to them at home and you’ll hear King just as he was—Mighty and frail at the same time. I’ve listened to the sermons on Knock many times and they never get old. You can’t help but learn something or see an old question a new way each time you listen.
The definitive books on Martin Luther King’s life and the Civil Rights era are found in Taylor Branch’s three-volume America In The King Years series.
These three books are the Pulitzer Prize winning Parting The Waters 1954-1963, Pillar Of Fire 1963-1965, and At Canaan’s Edge, 1965-1968.
(Photo below of Rosa Parks with M.L.K. in the background. Here are facts about the Montgomery Bus Boycott.)
These books stand not only at the top of King biography, they stand as great examples of American biography. The picture of Dr. King is complete. You get the good and the bad. There will be times you’ll shake your head and ask yourself how Rev. King could have said that or done that.
You’ll also see how brave King was and how brave the Civil Rights marchers and protesters were. You’ll get a clear sense of the obstacles faced not just from whites, but from status quo blacks as well. Mr. Branch offers a great deal of context for King’s life and experiences. He provides full portraits of other great Civil Rights leaders.
I can’t recommend all three volumes strongly enough. Read them and you’ll be an expert.