In recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Relevant Magazine just posted a short essay of mine about Dr. King:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. published five books in his lifetime; a sixth was released after he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39. They are all seminal works for American Christians.Stride Toward Freedom (1958) tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Measure of a Man (1959) is a slim volume explaining the theological and philosophical roots of nonviolent activism. Why We Can’t Wait(1964) is a history of the civil rights movement in general, and the 1963 Birmingham Campaign in particular. This book includes his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which was addressed to eight clergymen and urged the church to join the struggle for racial justice. King’s 1967 book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? is a clear-eyed look at the state of race relations at a moment when the civil rights movement was in disarray. The book also makes a provocative connection between the bankrupt ideology of systemic discrimination, and the literal impoverishment of millions of Americans, white and black. The five speeches that make up The Trumpet of Conscience, published posthumously in 1968, link the evils of poverty, militarism and racism, and call for nothing less than a nonviolent revolution.
However, the book we’ll focus on here is Strength to Love, a collection of King’s sermons first published in 1963. Reverend Dr. King liked to say that he was, above all else, a clergyman. Everything else he was—civil rights leader, antiwar activist, labor activist, advocate for the poor, writer, public intellectual and Nobel Laureate—flowed from his primary vocation as a Baptist preacher, the son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist preachers.