Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is known for his prolific speeches and sermons, such as his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington ,D.C. However, less is known about his written works which focus on the history of the civil rights movement and his hopes for the future of the movement. The following are some of the books you need to know if you want to learn more about King’s philosophy.
In King’s memoir of the Montgomery bus boycott, Stride Toward Freedom, King delves into the intellectual influences that led him to nonviolent philosophy. Influences such as Mahatma Gandhi and Karl Marx taught King that victory through nonviolence was not about winning through humiliating his opponent but through creating friendship and understanding with his opponent. King also reflects on race relations before, during, and after the Montgomery bus boycott and thinks about how this use of nonviolent protest benefited the movement and how it can be used again in future movements.
During the early stages of writing Stride Toward Freedom, King had to work with many of his colleagues to make sure what he said in this book would not hurt his cause. This is due to the fact that King used communist philosophers, such as Karl Marx, to help talk about where his ideas of nonviolent protest came from in a time when supporting communism was viewed as treason. His book, however, came out with great success and is recommended to “Americans who,” as King’s mentor Benjamin Mays states, “believe in justice and equality for all.”
King’s third book, written after the end of the Birmingham Campaign and The March on Washington, Why We Can’t Wait, is a memoir in which King further develops his ideas on impactful yet non-violent protest strategies. In the book, King explains his opposition to the gradualist approach to civil rights, pointing to the slow progression of rights given back to Black people and how this leads to frustration and neglect within and out of the Black community.
Instead, King expounds how the victory in Birmingham was due to nonviolent direct action and not by slow gradual changes. Many critics of the book see it as an important read that is both straightforward and eloquent, with Benjamin Mays stating, “the last chapter alone is worth the book.”
Even though this book was his last one before his assassination, Where Do We Go from Here was King’s first book written in isolation from the demands of the civil rights movement. King finished the first draft of his manuscript while vacationing in the Caribbean after the victories won for the civil rights movement in form of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King knew that, even with these victories, his work and the work of the civil rights movement was not done; his book, therefore, focused on what the future of the movement would be.
In this prolific work, King lays out his thoughts, plans, and dreams for America’s future, including the need for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, and quality education for all. Due to some of the more confrontational stances King takes in the book, such as his opposition to the Black Power movement, his book received mixed reviews. However, the ideas he relates within the book still hold great relevance today.
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