January 19 is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Signed into law in January 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a celebration of Dr. King’s immeasurable contribution to the United States and to humankind. It is celebrated on the third Monday of January to coincide with Dr. King’s birthday (January 15, 1929). The Mercer County Library System houses a vast collection of titles about the eminent Civil Rights leader, including the following recently-published volumes:

Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final year  By Tavis Smiley
Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final Year
By Tavis Smiley
Martin Luther King, Jr. died in one of the most shocking assassinations the world has known, but little is remembered about the life he led in his final year. New York Times bestselling author and award-winning broadcaster Tavis Smiley recounts the final 365 days of King's life, revealing the minister's trials and tribulations—denunciations by the press, rejection from the president, dismissal by the country's black middle class and militants, assaults on his character, ideology, and political tactics, to name a few—all of which he had to rise above in order to lead and address the racism, poverty, and militarism that threatened to destroy our democracy.

Smiley's Death of a King paints a portrait of a leader and visionary in a narrative different from all that have come before. Here is an exceptional glimpse into King's life—one that adds both nuance and gravitas to his legacy as an American hero.

“A reverential look at Martin Luther King Jr.'s last agonizing year that does not disguise the flaws of a saint. The humanity and moral conviction of this great civil rights leader emerge in talk show host Smiley . . . and co-writer Ritz's poignant account of King's final struggle. In the introduction, Smiley asserts that King's "martyrdom has undermined his message" and that during the last year of his life, the Nobel Prize winner returned to his original message of nonviolence with all the conviction of his preacher's soul. The author catches up with the beleaguered minister as he is headed to Manhattan's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, for what would be a definitive and divisive sermon denouncing the Vietnam War—indeed, he attacks ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,’ the American government. King—whom Smiley refers to as ‘Doc,’ since that is what his colleagues called him, and it takes him off his pedestal—was excoriated widely for his anti-war stance not only by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson (with whom King had worked closely for the passage of several civil rights bills in Congress), but especially by black critics like Carl Rowan and leading newspapers for introducing ‘matters that have nothing to do with the legitimate battle for equal rights in America.’ Yet King believed that black soldiers dying for a senseless war in Vietnam was immoral, and he continued to insist in his speeches that ‘the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together.’ Depressed by the rioting in cities, drinking heavily, guilt-ridden by his affairs and plagued by death threats, King nonetheless found in poverty the message that drove him finally to stand with the Memphis sanitation workers in his final hours. An eloquent, emotional journey from darkness to light.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Smiley's King is at once more flawed and more human than we have come to see him. But for that reason he is even more courageous, and more admirable."—Clay Risen, New York Times Book Review

Martin’s Dream: My Journey and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.  By Clayborne Carson
Martin’s Dream: My Journey and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Clayborne Carson
On August 28, 1963 hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flocked to the nation's capital for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. It was Clayborne Carson's first demonstration. A 19-year-old black student from a working-class family in New Mexico, Carson hitched a ride to Washington. Unsure how he would return home, he was nonetheless certain that he wanted to connect with the youthful protesters and community organizers who spearheaded the freedom struggle. Decades later, Coretta Scott King selected Dr. Carson—then a history professor at Stanford University—to edit the papers of her late husband. In this candid and engrossing memoir, he traces his evolution from political activist to activist scholar. He vividly recalls his involvement in the movement's heyday and in the subsequent turbulent period when King's visionary Dream became real for some and remained unfulfilled for others. He recounts his conversations with key African Americans of the past half century, including Black Power firebrand Stokely Carmichael and dedicated organizers such as Ella Baker and Bob Moses. His description of his long-term relationship with Coretta Scott King sheds new light on her crucial role in preserving and protecting her late husband's legacy. Written from the unique perspective of a renowned scholar, this highly readable account gives readers valuable new insights about the global significance of King's inspiring ideas and his still unfolding legacy.

“In this hybrid memoir and historical account, Carson, editor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s papers, records his personal journey through the turbulent civil rights movement and his changing views on its legacy. Having grown up in a suburban, mostly white community in New Mexico, Carson is swept into a growing involvement with activist groups after traveling as a teenager to witness the landmark March on Washington, where King makes his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Carson's ‘wide-ranging curiosity’ and passion for the movement lead him to a career as a historian studying the African-American story, and in particular the legacy of groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and leaders like Malcolm X. But once Carson has settled into a comfortable tenured position at Stanford, he gets a phone call that changes his life: King's widow, Coretta, asks him to become the editor of King's papers. Most of the book gets bogged down in exhaustive details about Carson's administrative scuffles with King family members over their vision for King's legacy and other, pettier, concerns. Still, Carson's testament to the universal relevance of King's ideas and the farsighted vision behind his emphasis on cooperation among people of all colors adds an insightful perspective on King's mighty accomplishments.”—Publishers Weekly

The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream  By Gary Younge
The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream
By Gary Younge
“To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, author and Nation columnist Younge examines the political and emotional climate of August, 1963. In the weeks preceding, there were 758 related demonstrations in 186 cities all of which added to the ‘condition that made the March on Washington possible and King's speech so resonant.’ As Clarence Jones, who helped draft the speech, later reflected, ‘Text without context, in this case especially, would be quite a loss.’ Younge takes on this mission in his terse book, which is divided into three parts: ‘The Moment,’ ‘The March,’ and ‘The Legacy.’ He provides just enough context to convey the anticipation and chaos leading up to the speech and adds meaningful layers to the rhetoric. Vivid details instill the emotional importance of the event. Younge balances his account using outside and original commentary from rhetoricians, activists, and scholars, including different interpretations of the speech itself and its relevance in the civil rights movement. A grand blend of history, horrors, and honor.”—Publishers Weekly

“Martin Luther King Jr's ‘I Have a Dream’ speech rivals only Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as the most famous speech in American history. To mark the 50th anniversary of the speech, given on August 28, 1963, Younge has written a book about it and the March on Washington at which King spoke. The first third of the book gives a very brief overview of the civil rights movement, followed by a lengthy section on the difficulties of organizing the march. Fewer than 40 pages of this slim volume are actually spent discussing King's speech. Younge breaks down its rhetorical brilliance and considers what parts of the speech were prepared, left out, or spoken extemporaneously. This part of the book is by far the most compelling, although Younge quotes heavily from other sources, leaving the reader to wonder what exactly the author has contributed to the analysis. The book's final chapter assesses current race relations in America. This is best as an introductory volume for lay readers and students new to the subjects of civil rights and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”—Library Journal

Waking From the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr.  By David L. Chappell
Waking From the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr.
By David L. Chappell
“Astute contemporary history of the civil rights movement in the years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Though many books have focused on the period from 1954 to 1968, bookended by Brown v. Board of Education and King's tragic death, there has been less emphasis on the period after 1968. Chappell helps to provide a corrective by delivering what could be considered a series of linked essays covering a range of themes on the continuing fight for racial equality in the last four-plus decades. Beginning with the largely overlooked Civil Rights Act of 1968, or Fair Housing Act, which Congress enacted just a week after King's death, Chappell shows how for a few years the movement seemed unmoored and leaderless even as there were real efforts to continue the work of the so-called ‘Classical Phase’ of the struggle. By the late 1970s and into the '80s, issues such as full employment and the establishment of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day took central stage. During this time period, former King confidant Jesse Jackson worked tirelessly to become the pre-eminent black leader in America. Chappell takes Jackson seriously as a historical figure, reminding readers that his two presidential campaigns in the '80s were more than just sideshows. This book will hopefully serve to push other historians to pick up where Chappell has left off. The author oddly leaves out any serious discussion of the American anti-apartheid movement against South Africa, and he overlooks significant developments in the history of Black Power and the Black Panther Party. Nonetheless, as a foray into still largely unexplored terrain, Chappell's book is vital. The movement did not die with King. Chappell effectively shows how the struggle continued even as the message seemed to fragment.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Examines not only the Civil Rights struggle but the struggle of many—activists, scholars, and more—to control King's legacy and image. Leading civil rights authority Chappell, who wrote the highly regarded A Stone of Hope, is set to make us think.”—Library Journal

Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation  By Jonathan Rieder
Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation
By Jonathan Rieder
Presents an account of the creation of King's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and the related protest march on Washington, offering insight into its timeless message and crucial position in the history of human rights.

"I am in Birmingham because injustice is here," declared Martin Luther King, Jr. He had come to that city of racist terror convinced that massive protest could topple Jim Crow. But the insurgency faltered. To revive it, King made a sacrificial act on Good Friday, April 12, 1963: he was arrested. Alone in his cell, reading a newspaper, he found a statement from eight "moderate" clergymen who branded the protests extremist and "untimely." King drafted a furious rebuttal that emerged as the "Letter from Birmingham Jail"-a work that would take its place among the masterpieces of American moral argument alongside those of Thoreau and Lincoln. His insistence on the urgency of "Freedom Now" would inspire not just the marchers of Birmingham and Selma, but peaceful insurgents from Tiananmen to Tahrir Squares. Scholar Jonathan Rieder delves deeper than anyone before into the Letter-illuminating both its timeless message and its crucial position in the history of civil rights. Rieder has interviewed King's surviving colleagues, and located rare audiotapes of King speaking in the mass meetings of 1963. Gospel of Freedom gives us a startling perspective on the Letter and the man who wrote it: an angry prophet who chastised American whites, found solace in the faith and resilience of the slaves, and knew that moral appeal without struggle never brings justice.

“In this study of King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’ Barnard College sociologist Rieder places the Civil Rights leader’s important work in its historical and literary context. Rieder devotes a full 40 pages to setting the tumultuous scene in 1963. The meat of the book, however, is Rieder’s detailed analysis of the letter itself. Rieder meticulously identifies both subtle and overt shifts in King’s tone and intent, ranging from diplomacy to anger; by the second half of the letter, King ‘mainly finished with explaining himself to his white critics. He is now ready to reprimand them.’ Rieder assumes a familiarity with the text as he analyzes the letter and displays a remarkably deep knowledge of King’s larger body of work, with cross-references and connections to other sermons and writings. Perhaps the most powerful and instructive of these comparisons is in relation to the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, given a few months after the letter was penned. The book closes with a broad analysis of how the letter affected the fight for equality in Birmingham and how it continues to inspire.”—Publishers Weekly

“Rieder offers a sparkling reconsideration of the letter. . . Rieder’s trenchant comments approach the letter on historical and literary grounds but also as a way to better understand the often elusive King. . . A slim volume that packs plenty of punch, Gospel of Freedom is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the civil rights movement, King, and America itself.”—Booklist

Lisa S.


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