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Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List—Updated For 2011

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Blogger’s Note—This is the fourth edition of the Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List. There are three additions for 2011.

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 King 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 was in our society. After you learn more about Dr. King, take action yourself  toaddress the great pressing social problems of American life, and to address 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 premiseof 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)

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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 theNational 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.

The best one volume work on King’s life is David Garrow’s Bearing The Cross—Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

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 though, 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 need to have it on your shelf, 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

Stride Toward Freedom–The Montgomery Story.

Where Do We Go From Here–Chaos Or Community?

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.

The Memorial has a web home. At this site, you can find a video of what the memorial will look like and a history of the project.

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.

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 1954-1963Pillar Of Fire 1963-1965, and At Canaan’s Edge, 1965-1968.

(Photo below is of Rosa Parks being booked during 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.

Please click here for a Texas Liberal post on King’s sermon Unfulfilled Dreams

January 5, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Fight Over Design Of Martin Luther King Statue

Chinese artist Lei Yixin is working on the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. 

Above is a picture of the planned Martin Luther King statue for the Martin Luther King National Memorial on the Mall in Washington.

(Here is my Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List. It is the best list of its kind on the web.)

The man you see in the photo is sculptor Lei Yexin.

The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which must approve all statues for the Mall, has said it does not like the statue.

( Update 5/18/08–Here is a very good New York Times story on this subject. It discusses the King statue and the politics of putting new things on the Mall.)

From a Washington Post story— 

The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts thinks “the colossal scale and Social Realist style of the proposed statue recalls a genre of political sculpture that has recently been pulled down in other countries,” commission secretary Thomas Luebke said in a letter in April…..

It is the second time in recent months that the memorial to the slain civil rights leader has come under fire. Last year, critics complained after a Chinese sculptor known for his monumental works of figures such as Mao Zedong was selected to create King and other elements of the memorial in China.

The $100 million memorial, which is being built largely with private donations by the Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, is planned for a crescent-shaped four-acre site among Washington’s famed cherry trees on the northwest shore of the basin. Construction is expected to start this year and end next year.

The centerpiece is to be a 2 1/2 -story sculpture of the civil rights leader carved in a giant chunk of granite. Called the Stone of Hope, it would depict King, standing with his arms folded, looming from the stone. At 28 feet tall, it would be eight feet taller than the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.

I imagine the statue is not the soft image of Martin Luther King that has become the myth of his life with some. And I do see how the sculpture could be taken as something out of a dictatorship.

Still, I hope that whatever design is finally approved retains some of the discipline, and even harshness, found in King’s message of non-violence and divine review of America’s actions at home and in the world.

I also hope these objections are not a way at getting at the ethnicity of the artist. There has been controversy over the fact that Lei Yexin is Chinese. Martin Luther King would have accepted a sculptor of any race to honor his life’s work.      

May 12, 2008 Posted by | Art, Martin & Malcolm | , , , , | 4 Comments