Authors: Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American reformer and orator

Identity: African American

Author Works


Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958

The Measure of a Man, 1959

Strength to Love, 1963

Why We Can’t Wait, 1963

A Martin Luther King Treasury, 1964

The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967

Where Do We Go from Here?, 1967

The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1983, 1987

The Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1986, 1991

The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1992-2000 (4 volumes; Clayborne Carson, editor)

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, 1998 (Carson, editor)

A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., 1998 (Carson and Peter Halloran, editors)

A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 2001 (Carson, editor)


Martin Luther King, Jr., has been hailed as a prophet, a modern Moses, and the conscience of a nation. The son of a southern middle-class African American minister and his wife, King became an internationally known leader of the Civil Rights movement. King gained worldwide recognition for his philosophy of nonviolent social change. In 1964 he became the youngest person to have received the Nobel Peace Prize.{$I[AN]9810001822}{$I[A]King, Martin Luther, Jr.}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;King, Martin Luther, Jr.}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;King, Martin Luther, Jr.}{$I[tim]1929;King, Martin Luther, Jr.}

Martin Luther King, Jr.

(Library of Congress)

King attended school in Atlanta but did not formally complete high school. Instead, he passed an examination that allowed him to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta. During his undergraduate studies he was ordained into the Christian ministry. After graduating, King continued his education at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, finishing at the top of his class. He earned his Ph.D. in 1955 from the Boston University School of Theology.

While he was minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, had their first child two weeks before Rosa Parks made her fateful decision not to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery city bus to a white man. Five days later, King was elected president of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association, and the now-famous bus boycott officially began. After 381 days of nonviolent protest, during which King was arrested and indicted, federal injunctions were served and Montgomery buses were integrated on December 21, 1956.

King and his followers accomplished in thirteen years what decades had failed to produce. The minister traveled across the globe meeting with world leaders, all the while continuing to reach millions of poor, disfranchised African Americans by participating in numerous boycotts and marches. Early on, he spoke at places as varied as the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington D.C., the American Jewish Conference in New York, and the National Bar Association in Milwaukee. He published Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story in 1958, a book concerned not only with the Montgomery boycott but also with the gulf between rich and poor. At the beginning of 1960, King moved his family to Atlanta, accepting a call to the Ebenezer Baptist Church where his own father was copastor.

King had founded and was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in early 1957. This group continued in the tradition of nonviolent social change, despite the growing dissent and call for violence in the 1960’s by other radical black leaders. One of King’s most famous essays, “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” was written while he was imprisoned during sit-in demonstrations held in 1963 to protest the segregation of eating facilities. His famous “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered that same year at the March on Washington, the first large integrated protest march. Strength to Love, a classic collection of sermons explaining the central elements of King’s philosophy of nonviolence, was also published in 1963. In 1964 King not only recounted the Birmingham story but also traced the history of civil rights for three centuries in the book Why We Can’t Wait. King’s audience grew with each protest and publication. The actions of his followers gained more and more sympathy as the news media showed photographs and footage revealing the violence experienced by the peaceful protesters.

King’s last years were ones of highs and lows. In 1964 three white volunteers were murdered while helping with a voter-registration drive organized to help African Americans register in highly racist southern towns. Race riots occurred in Harlem and other northern cities. In 1965 an Alabama march from Selma to Montgomery was met with horrible violence. “Black Power” was first used by Black Panther leaders as a slogan to advocate violence in 1966, and Dr. King was stoned while leading a peaceful march for open housing in Chicago. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed parts of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and 1965, however, and King had an audience with the pope in the Vatican before receiving the Nobel Prize in Oslo, Norway, in 1964. More voter registration campaigns were initiated, as was the Chicago Project for open housing.

King began openly to denounce the Vietnam War, and in 1967 he published Where Do We Go from Here?, a treatise on the evils of racism and poverty. His last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” was delivered in Memphis during a march supporting striking sanitation workers on April 3, 1967, one day before a sniper killed the civil rights leader on the balcony of his hotel room. King left behind not only a loving family and friends but also an entire world that learned from his bold words and courageous actions.

BibliographyAnsbro, John J. Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of a Mind. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1982. This study of King’s intellectual and spiritual development is based on extensive primary material from King’s student days as well as his later writings. Ansbro focuses on the pivotal role of nonviolence based on agape in King’s social theology.Baldwin, Lewis V., ed. The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Boundaries of Law, Politics, and Religion. South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002. A multidisciplinary collection of essays exploring the ways in which King integrated religious ideals and political action.Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. This Pulitzer Prize-winning work offers the most comprehensive account of King’s early career.Branch, Taylor. Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. The second volume in Branch’s history of King and the civil rights era, this work contains a wealth of detail that is at times overwhelming.Dyson, Michael Eric. I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Free Press, 2000. An attempt to distinguish the popular image of King from the reality of the man, exploring his imperfections as well as his lesser-known views. Fairclough, Adam. Martin Luther King, Jr. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. This slim volume serves as a superb introduction for students interested in King’s life and impact.Frady, Marshall. Martin Luther King, Jr.. New York: Viking, 2002. A relatively brief biography of King that concentrates on the civil rights leader’s personality within the context of his turbulent era. Touches on King’s relationship with the Kennedys and Hoover’s maniacal surveillance of him.Friedly, Michael, and David Gallen. Martin Luther King, Jr. The FBI File. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1993. The extended introductory essay is followed by material from King’s FBI file, and includes excerpts from tapes that the FBI secretly made of King’s private conservations.Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a Personal Portrait. New York: William Morrow, 1986. Garrow carefully documents King’s personal life and the origins and progress of the Civil Rights movement. He pays particular attention to internal struggles, including King’s sexual temptations and his agonizing awareness that his life was at risk.Garrow, David J. The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From “Solo” to Memphis. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981. This work examines the roots and nature of the FBI’s opposition to King and demonstrates that serious efforts were made to discredit King as a national leader.King, Coretta Scott. My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. ed. New York: Henry Holt, 1993. This book is a valuable personal account of the King family, but it must be balanced by scholarly accounts. The revised edition does not differ significantly from the original edition, which was published shortly after King’s death.Morris, Aldon D. The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change. New York: Free Press, 1984.Oates, Stephen B. Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Reprint. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. A biography that was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy award.Peake, Thomas R. Keeping the Dream Alive; a History of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from King to the Nineteen-Eighties. New York: P. Lang, 1987.Schulke, Flip. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Documentary …Montgomery to Memphis. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976. A pictorial journey through King’s activist years.Washington, James, ed. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. This collection includes material that King wrote or said from throughout his career. However, the brief introductory essay does not provide an analytical framework from which to study the excerpts.Watley, William D. Roots of Resistance; the Nonviolent Ethic of Martin Luther King, Jr. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1985.
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