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Recommended Reading: Martin Luther King, Jr

by Becky C | Jan 21, 2019
Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister who advocated the use of non-violent protest to end racial segregation and to promote racial equality in the United States.  He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, donating the prize money, valued at $54,123, to the civil rights movement. In 1968, King was organizing an interracial “Poor People’s March” on Washington; it was still in the planning stages when he was assassinated on April 4,1968.   

Soon after King’s death, there were calls for a national holiday to celebrate his life and honor his achievements.  Although legislation for a federal holiday was introduced in Congress as early as 1968, there was sufficient opposition to block its passage. In 1983, legislation making the third Monday in January a federal holiday finally was passed, and the first observance nationwide was in 1986. 

ACPL has hundreds of titles in our collection about this extraordinary man and his commitment to making the world a better place.   Here are six that I recommend in particular:



The SemanarianThe Seminarian
by Patrick Parr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a cautious nineteen-year-old rookie preacher when he left Atlanta, Georgia to attend Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.  During his three years at seminary, King delivered dozens of sermons around the Philadelphia area, had a gun pointed at him (twice), played on the basketball team, and became student body president.  He graduated at the top of the class of 1951.  Parr provides an in-depth account of the curriculum King studied, as well as dozens of revealing interviews with the men and women who knew him then.



Winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, Garrow's thorough study focuses on the most turbulent years of the American civil rights movement.  He draws from King's personal papers, as well as from thousands of FBI documents detailing the activities of King and his closest colleagues.  He also draws from more than seven hundred interviews with King's associates -- and those who opposed him.  Reviewers have noted that Garrow does an exceptional job depicting King's strength and vision, along with his failings and fears.


On April 12, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama, for violating a court injunction against marching in the city's streets. His plan, his vision, had been to instigate a nonviolent protest in an effort to integrate Birmingham's downtown stores. Eight local clergymen charged King as being a violent extremist. In response, King wrote "Letter from Birmingham Jail", a work that has taken its place among the masterpieces of American moral argument. Rieder offers a detailed analysis of the letter, displaying a deep knowledge of King's larger body of work by drawing connections to his other sermons and writings.


Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his powerful "I Have a Dream" speech on August 28, 1963.  Younge carefully examines the political and emotional climate of the time and divides his analysis into three parts: "The Moment," "The March," and "The Legacy".  Younge balances his account using outside and original commentary from rhetoricians, activists, and scholars, including different interpretations of the speech itself and its relevance in the civil rights movement.



RedemptionRedemption: Martin Luther King Jr.'s last 31 hours
by Joseph Rosenbloom.
Redemption is an intimate look at the final hours of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life. Exhausted from a brutal speaking schedule, denounced by the press and by political leaders as an agent of violence, and facing dissent even within the civil rights movement and among his own staff at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King gathered the strength to speak at a rally on behalf of sanitation workers. On April 3, he delivered the "Mountaintop Speech," an eloquent and passionate appeal for workers' rights and economic justice.  Using memoirs, interviews, and newly released papers from the files of Coretta Scott King and William Rutherford, former director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Rosenbloom paints a taut and detailed picture of King's and his assassin's movements in Memphis.


A King Family Tribute

Edited by his niece, this scrapbook-style tribute from Martin Luther King Jr.'s family shares their reflections and memories of the civil rights leader. Included are contributions from his sister, his children, his in-laws, his nieces and nephews, and even his grandchildren, who, although they never met him, explain what his legacy means to them. Unlike the iconic persona normally associated with the man, the book presents a more personal, warm, and loving portrait. 


While these six titles are my top picks for books written about Martin Luther King Jr., I strongly recommend that you read something written by him -- or listen to his speeches (we have CDs you can check out). 


Becky CBecky likes to read … A LOT. When she’s not reading, she likes to pretend that she can garden. Her favorite books are The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz and The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman..
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