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Martin Luther King Jr: 5 Books To Read To Understand Him Better

Every third Monday of January is celebrated as Martin Luther King Jr Day. It is a federal holiday in the United States that commemorates the life and legacy of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. also known as MLK. King led non-violent protests in the US in the 1950s-1960s in a bid to end discrimination and racial segregation against Black Americans. King also pushed for social and economic equality for Black people. King was assassinated in 1968.

To commemorate MLK’s life and legacy and learn more about the civil rights movement, here are five recommended books to read:

The Autobiography Of Martin Luther King, Jr

By Martin Luther King Jr

With knowledge, spirit, good humour 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 rebelled against segregation; the dedicated young minister who constantly 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, this autobiography offers King’s seldom discussed views on some of the world’s greatest and most controversial figures including John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, 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.

I Have a Dream

By Martin Luther King Jr.

A beautiful collectible edition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s legendary speech at the March on Washington, laid out to follow the cadence of his oration.

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On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood before thousands of Americans who had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in the name of civil rights. Including the immortal words, “I have a dream,” Dr. King’s keynote speech would energize a movement and change the course of history.

With references to the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, Shakespeare, and the Bible, Dr. King’s March on Washington address has long been hailed as one of the greatest pieces of writing and oration in history. Profound and deeply moving, it is as relevant today as it was nearly sixty years earlier.

This beautifully designed hardcover edition presents Dr. King’s speech in its entirety, paying tribute to this extraordinary leader and his immeasurable contribution, and inspiring a new generation of activists dedicated to carrying on the fight for justice and equality. 

A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love

By Martin Luther King Jr.

‘[He] inspired a generation … He changed the course of history’ Barack Obama

As Martin Luther King, Jr. prepared for the Birmingham campaign in early 1963, he drafted the final sermons for Strength to Love, a volume of his best-known lectures. King had begun working on the sermons during a fortnight in jail in July 1962 and A Gift of Love includes these classic sermons, along with two new lectures.

Drawing inspiration from both his Christian faith and the non-violent philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, A Gift of Love illustrates King’s vision of love and peaceful action as social and political forces for change.

Why We Can’t Wait

By Martin Luther King Jr.

Lightning makes no sound until it strikes’

This is the momentous story of the Civil Rights movement, told by one of its most powerful and eloquent voices. Here Martin Luther King, Jr. recounts the pivotal events in the city of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 that propelled his non-violent campaign for racial justice from a movement of lunch counter sit-ins and prayer meetings to a phenomenon that ‘rocked the richest, most powerful nation to its foundations’.

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As inspiring and resonant as it was upon publication, Why We Can’t Wait is both a unique historical document, and an enduring testament to one man’s wise, courageous and endlessly hopeful vision.

At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68

By Taylor Branch

These concluding years of the freedom era show King at the height of his powers even as his worldly prestige falls under withering attack. We witness non-violent advances for democracy in the face of growing factionalism and fear. We meet heroines and martyrs; enter a world battered by private doubts, public dreams, contagious inspiration, official harassment, and poisonous discord over the Vietnam War. The narrative begins with violence before the pivotal 1965 Selma march for the right to vote, a dangerous time. From landmark victory there, King’s movement comes under threat from competing forces. Branch chronicles dramatic campaigns in Mississippi and Alabama, King’s tormented alliance with Lyndon Johnson, his painful break with Stokey Carmichael over black power, and persecution by Hoover’s FBI. Like PARTING THE WATERS and PILLAR OF FIRE, AT CANAAN’S EDGE is a magnificent achievement that brings the decades of the Civil Rights struggle alive and preserves the integrity of those who marched and died.


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