The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr

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Civil Rights Activist Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In His Own Words~

Jan 18, 2010 (Updated Jan 21, 2010)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:really got to know MLK Jr. well; an enjoyable read; Source Notes in back

Cons:a bit of repetition

The Bottom Line: Carson acknowledges the many people who helped him to create this book, including Dexter King to a large extent. Coretta Scott King read the manuscript.


Actually, those of us who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

With the full cooperation and interest of the late Martin Luther King, Jr.'s family, historian Clayborne Carson had been tasked with presenting King's inestimable legacy for the ages, but agreed that not only a fourteen-volume collection of King's papers for scholars was necessary. Also crucial was a more accessible book that would engage people like you and me with the real story of the slain man of God in his own words, through selected sermons, passages from his three books and interviews we may never have heard before. He achieved this very beautifully in 1998 with The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. It's the first time I've specifically read a book about King and now I wonder why it's taken so long. Knowing more about his thoughts and how he influenced the course of America in the turbulent 1950s and 1960s may have helped me to better appreciate the book The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee by my friend Patrick Jones, which I read and reviewed last summer.

The thirty-two, titled chapters begin with King's early years in Atlanta, George where he was born on the verge of the Great Depression into a family where his great grandfather, grandfather, father, only brother and uncle all have been or are preachers. While he grew up in the Baptist church family and felt a calling to the ministry, he struggled for a few years with a desire to also go into education. He enjoyed the challenge of studying the thoughts of Henry David Thoreau, Nietzsche and Marx, Gandhi, Niebuhr and Socrates, as well as eminent professors of philosophy and religion, and chose the ministry as a result. With his wife Coretta Scott King (who he met through a friend and chose after an hour of conversation) he embarked on a life of service to black communities in the south that developed into his bold, but nonviolent involvement in the civil rights movement.

King was jailed in at least five southern cities, along with many other protesters with black and often white skin. The nonviolent marches he helped to organize and lead were not trips to the beach, but provoked the ire of white supremacists who sometimes went so far as to bomb their churches and houses. Once King was stabbed in the chest by 'a demented, black woman' and he could've bled to death if he had sneezed before doctors removed the knife, but because of his prayerful dedication and of those with him the Negro revelled in a new sense of dignity and hope that overturned the status quo of racial segregation, first in the south and then in the less-obvious north. Unfortunately, even with new federal laws on their side, not much changed for them as those in local power clung to their power. President Johnson's War on Poverty was little more than a skirmish. In King's final march from Washington in the spring of 1968, the Poor Peoples' Campaign that united all impoverished people throughout America, he sought to motivate the administration to act on their behalf for real.

When all is finally entered in the annals of sociology; when philosophers, politicians, and preachers have had their say, we must return to the fact that a person participates in this society as an economic entity...When persons are for some reason or other excluded from the consumer circle, there is discontent and unrest.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.


Before reading the very compelling and intimate book by Carson, The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., I knew of the Rosa Parks story and how a car pool supported by white ladies as well as blacks led to the desegregation of Montgomery, Alabama's buses (after a year!), but now I know what happened in Birmingham, AL; St. Augustine, Florida; Mississippi; Selma, AL; Los Angeles, CA (Watts); and Chicago, IL in the years before King's assassination. I know how humbled and surprised he was by being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and that he traveled all over India and had contacts all over the world. I understand that he was moved by the oppression of people everywhere and their need for freedom, that he never wavered in his belief in the creative power of nonviolence, that he had strong reservations about using the slogan "black power!" for many reasons, and that he finally spoke out against the war in Vietnam to resounding criticism. King followed his conscience as a man of God rather than what was popular and safe.

I consider myself a spiritual person rather than religious, a person who chooses to live by the Golden Rule as many religious people do. Using nonviolent means to instigate needed change makes much more sense to me than using violence because by respecting people who confront you with their anger you'll confuse them. You will have a greater chance to change their hearts. As King reminds us, peace is never simply an absence of tension, but the presence of justice. His big-hearted wisdom as found in this book still needs to be heard today and always if we don't wish the soul of America and the world to die.

Here's a link to my review of The Selma of the North: http://tinyurl.com/y9wcwmz


Recommend this product? Yes


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