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January 15, 2024

3 Books to Read for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

by Donna Huber

In the U.S. today we celebrate the life of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. He was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia.  As you may know, I live in Georgia and have visited The King Center and Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was a pastor. MLK, Jr was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, TN. He is probably most well-known for his "I Have a Dream" speech that he gave as a keynote address at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. When I was growing up, a television movie played every year and included the speech. I don't remember it well and I would like to watch it again. I'm sure it's available online but I had no luck finding it - if you also remember watching it and remember the title or anything other information please leave a comment.

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If you want to learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, here's a list of books to read. It would also be a good primer for Black History Month in February.

The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement by Taylor Branch

book cover of history nonfiction The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement by Taylor Branch

The King Years delivers riveting tales of everyday heroes who achieved miracles in constructive purpose and yet poignantly fell short. Here is the full sweep of an era that still reverberates in national politics. Its legacy remains unsettled; there are further lessons to be discovered before free citizens can once again move officials to address the most intractable, fearful dilemmas. This vital primer amply fulfills its author’s “For students of freedom and teachers of history.”

This compact volume brings to life eighteen pivotal dramas, beginning with the impromptu speech that turned an untested, twenty-six-year-old Martin Luther King forever into a public figure on the first night of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Five years later, minority students filled the jails in a 1960 sit-in movement, and, in 1961, the Freedom Riders seized national attention.

Branch interprets King’s famous speech at the 1963 March on Washington, then relives the Birmingham church bombing that challenged his dream of equal souls and equal votes. We see student leader Bob Moses mobilize college volunteers for Mississippi’s 1964 Freedom Summer, and a decade-long movement at last secures the first of several landmark laws for equal rights. At the same time, the presidential nominating conventions were drawn into sharp and unprecedented party realignment.

In “King, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Nobel Peace Prize,” Branch details the covert use of state power for a personal vendetta. “Crossroads in Selma” describes King’s ordeal to steer the battered citizen’s movement through hopes and threats from every level of government. “Crossroads in Vietnam” glimpses the ominous wartime split between King and President Lyndon Johnson. As backlash shadowed a Chicago campaign to expose northern prejudice, and the Black Power slogan of Stokely Carmichael captivated a world grown weary of nonviolent protest, King grew ever more isolated. As Branch writes, King “pushed downward into lonelier causes until he wound up among the sanitation workers of Memphis.” A requiem chapter leads to his fateful assassination. (Goodreads)

A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr.

book cover of anthology A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here, in the only major one-volume collection of his writings, speeches, interviews, and autobiographical reflections, is Martin Luther King Jr. on non-violence, social policy, integration, black nationalism, the ethics of love and hope, and more. (Goodreads)

Buy A Testament of Hope at Amazon

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King, Jr.

book cover of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr

With knowledge, spirit, good humor, and passion, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. brings to life a remarkable man whose thoughts and actions speak to our most burning contemporary issues and still inspire the desires, hopes, and dreams of us all.

Written in his own words, this history-making autobiography is Martin Luther King: 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.

Relevant and insightful, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. offers King's seldom disclosed views on some of the world's greatest and most controversial figures: John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Lyndon B. Johnson, Mahatma Gandhi, and Richard Nixon. It also paints a rich and moving portrait of a people, a time, and a nation in the face of powerful change. Finally, it shows how everyday Americans from all walks of life confronted themselves, each other, and the burden of the past-and how their fears and courage helped shape our future. (Goodreads)

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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