Martin Luther King’s birthday, books by him.

A picture from one of the many times Dr. King was arrested while advocating for social change.

Although Dr. King would have turned 81 on Friday, we as a nation like to have Mondays off, so are celebrating his birthday today.

Here in Chicago, and throughout the country, people are marking the birth of this remarkable man whose actions inspired millions and helped the nation move closer to its lofty promises.

In addition to being one of the most talented orators the nation has ever seen, King was also a prolific writer.  He wrote four books and countless sermons.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Written on toilet paper and the margins of newspapers while he was imprisoned in Bull Connor’s jail, this letter draws on the prophetic tradition, Martin Buber and personal experiences to respond to clergy who chastised King for agitating for civil rights.  In the letter, King defends non violence and urges the clergy to join him in the struggle.

2. Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Published in 1967, this book shows the increasing polarization that King had to contend with and the resolve and vision he brought to them.  In this work, he speaks out both against violence in the name of social change and the rioting that devastated many American cities and the war in Vietnam.  His commitment to a beloved community is firm throughout: he calls a riot the language of the unheard and asserts that the bombs that drop in Vietnam fall at home.

3.  Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Delivered at New York’s Riverside Church exactly one year before he was killed, this speech marked King’s first public and detailed rebuke of the war in Vietnam. It cost him favor with the Johnson White House, which had been comparatively supportive of civil rights legislation, and King felt, as he said, that at a certain point silence is betrayal.

4. Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech.  According to some, this 1964 speech charted the prophetic path King would follow during the remaining years of his life. During this time his focused expanded from dismantling segregation to combatting the triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism.

5.Stride Toward Freedom.  This book is King’s account of the fabled Montgomery Bus Boycott that launched him into national, and ultimately, international, prominence.

What are your favorite King writings? Is the I Have a Dream speech among them?


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