My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Perhaps at a sub-conscious level I knew that I needed to read this slowly, and that is exactly what happened. I don’t normally drag out the reading of a biography; they are generally very easy to read no matter who they are about. But with this book I found reflection and contemplation to be a frequent requirement.
As other reviewers have pointed out, this is not a book that Martin Luther King Jr wrote, but it is a book of his own words. Clayborne Carson mined the voluminous resources of King’s writings, speeches, and sermons to piece together a roughly chronological portrait of King in his own words. To the editor’s credit he does a phenomenal job organizing and choosing what to include.
The story moves from early life, to his education and philosophical formation, to his early life as a minster, then to the bulk of the book which obviously deals with his work in the civil rights movement. King is one of the most gifted orators I have ever heard, and more than that, the transcriptions of his sermons and speeches lose little power. After the first couple of transcriptions I began to read them allowed (transcripts from speaking engagements are italicized) and found that King’s cadence and rhetorical mastery was still present in the words on page.
Displayed most prominently in this volume seems to be King’s passion for non-violent protest. Much of his writings were dedicated, it seems, to recording his own conversations in which he defended non-violence, and also his own musings which seemed to be the private bolstering and inner debating that strengthened and solidified his own belief in non-violence. His faith is not skirted, it is a feature of his life in this work – as it seemed to be in his actual life. Considering the allegations and accusations that came out years after his death regarding some moral indiscretion, there is nothing in this work. But rightfully so. This is no attempt to white-wash King’s legacy as much as, I believe, the lack of evidence in King’s own words whether in repentance or denial. (If there is anything I appreciate about an editor it is when he/she fights the urge to editorialize)
All in all I am better for having read this book. I’m not sure anyone could walk away from this work without being better – regardless of ideological framework. I personally believe that Martin Luther King Jr is one a true American hero along the lines of any of the founders of our nation. While not perfect, he had a vision of life in the spirit of the first pilgrims who risked their lives to search out new lands where they could be who their conscience told them to be. Through all of the speckled and spotted chapters in our nations history we have done a fine job of accepting imperfections as human and embracing valor and courage and passion as something more, something beautiful. So while King had his imperfections he was a picture, in my opinion, of courage and passion in an almost singular way.
Read this book. I encourage you.