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The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr

Jun 12, 2009, 6:58 AM

Edited by Clayborne Carson

Publishers: Abascus Paperback; 366 pages

This is an autobiography that is composed from the speeches as well as other autobiographical essays that Martin Luther King, Jr., gave and wrote while he was alive. The editor of this magnificent work simply reconstructed them to fit into an autobiography that is captures the real Martin Luther King Jr.

It is chronological in the sense that it begins with bits and pieces of his childhood (a precocious child who skipped two years of high school to begin college at the age of 15), then moves on and on to tell his growth from a student to a non-violent crusader in the civil rights movement of what historians have termed as the "roaring sixties" in the United States of America. He attended Morehouse College where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology; enrolled at Crozer Theological Seminary where he received a bachelor of divinity; and went to Boston University, where he obtained doctorate in systematic theology. He then began life as a preacher. While he was at Crozer that he heard the president of Howard University Mordecai Johnson lecture on Gandhi, the man whose philosophy of non-violence was to influence his outlook on life.

Unlike most autobiographies, this one dwells more on the public life of Martin Luther King, Jr., giving as much information about his private as is necessary. So the bulk of the book is ideological, explaining his position on non-violence as the best way to undo the hatred of racial discrimination.  His views on key America's political figures such as John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Malcolm X as well as on the vexed Vietnam Question are clearly spelt out in this book.

Though the style is reportorial, the reader gets the feeling of being in the presence of the great Martin Luther King Jr. It is like he is right before you, espousing his dream for the United Sates of  America. In each chapter, key details about King are provided in a box. Also enclosed in boxes are speeches that he made in the course of his short but eventful life.

He died in his prime when his guidance of the civil rights movement was badly needed. In his swan song, he said:

 "Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator - that something we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. Every now and then I ask myself, 'What is it that I would want said?' And I leave the word to you this morning.

"I'd like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.

"I'd like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King Jr., tried to love somebody.

"I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. 

"I want you to be able to say that day, that I tried to feed the hungry.

"And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who are naked.

"I w ant you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison.

"I want you to say that I tried to love and to serve humanity.

"Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that Ii was drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. All of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have money to leave behind. I won't have fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I wanted to say.

"If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody he's traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain. If I can do my duty as a Christian ought, if Ii can bring salvation to a world once wrought, if I can spread the message as the master taught, then my living will not be in vain."

This is a book all lovers of freedom and justice must read. It's available at Timbooktoo.4494345