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Book Review - The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Clayborne Carson

Updated on January 20, 2012
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, 1929 - 1968 | image credit: Amazon
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, 1929 - 1968 | image credit: Amazon

A few months ago I visited the new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C.

That visit inspired my to refresh my memory about of King's leadership and remarkable contributions to peace, justice and righteousness in America.

The book I chose was The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and published in 1998

Autobiography Of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)
Autobiography Of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)

This book is one of the definitive works put together by Dr. Carson, the noted Standford University historian, who was asked by Coretta Scott King to direct the King Papers Project. Although it is not a new book it is an excellent reader covering all the major episodes in King's career.

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here is the Kindle edition of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Refer to it whenever you want.

Gandhi: An Autobiography - The Story of My Experiments With Truth
Gandhi: An Autobiography - The Story of My Experiments With Truth

Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were kindred spirits. Ghandi pioneered non-violent resistance. Ghandi said that he was after truth rooted in devotion to God and attributed the turning points, successes, and challenges in his life to the will of God.


The King Papers Project and Dr. Clayborne Carson

Today Dr. Carson is Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford.

A number of volumes have been published as part of the Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. project. "The study of King has become the central focus of my scholarly life," writes Dr. Carson.

Although King published three books and numerous articles and essays in his short life, he never wrote his own autobiography.

Sadly King was slain and he never had the time to write a complete autobiography. King's time was filled with leadership and struggle in non-violent resistance against oppression.

Fortunately, although King never wrote his own story, The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr, is based entirely on King's own words.

Dr. Carson put together a careful chronological narrative of King's life using King's own words based on King's published works, legal proceedings, letters, writings, speeches, sermons, notes and other sources.

Dr. Carson held himself and the King Project staff to a high standard:

to accurately reflect King's thoughts on events as they occurred and include clearly indicated verbatim texts and passages.

Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Book Jacket | image credit: Amazon | photo by Charles Moore/BLACK STAR
Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Book Jacket | image credit: Amazon | photo by Charles Moore/BLACK STAR
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial | image credit: John Dove
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial | image credit: John Dove

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi - Kindred Spirits

King's strong and never-wavering belief in non-violent resistance to oppression comes through loud and clear all through this book. In King's own words,

"I had come to see early that the Christian doctrine of love operating thought the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom."

The book jacket for The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. shows King standing behind his desks, his arms crossed in a mood of contemplation, with a large portrait of Mahatma Ghandi on the wall.

King's posture in this photo is very much like that chosen for his granite statue in the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial.

Inside the book there is a photo of King eating Sunday supper with his family. Hanging on the wall behind King is another large portrait of Ghandi. You can see that he wanted to be constantly reminded of Ghandi. Reading this book, I see how much his leadership and strategy was based on non-violent resistance -- even in the face of bombings, fire hoses, batons, police dogs and jail.

Sadly both Ghandi and King were assassinated by shooting.

Amazon reviewers' thoughts

Most Amazon reviewers seemed to be deeply moved by this book. Here's a sample:

"Carson does an absolutely amazing job transporting the reader into Dr. King's thoughts, ideas and feelings."
"... a complete, compassionate, caring human being instead of a federal holiday."
"King was an intellectual giant, yet also an extremely humble and honest man. He was a brilliant theologian and scholar, but consistently chose to identify himself with the lowest of the low in society. He was incredibly, well ... Christian ... in the true sense of the word.(Mort Coyle)"
"This is an incredible book, and should be read as a required part of the education of an American, as it recounts a remarkable and astonishing part of history that continues to shape the direction of the nation to this day."
"If you admire King or his views in any way then this is the book for you. If you only read one book - this is the one."

Review: The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The resulting book is an excellent walk-through of the major events in King's life -- from his early years and eduction, to his final speech in Memphis with premonitions of his death, given on the day before his was assassinated.

I like the way this book is presented. It includes the complete text of King's key speeches. The easy-to-read narrative takes you through King's thoughts as he navigates through this tumultuous time in American history.

The book is divided into 32 sections -- each section covering an important phase in King's life and career. Each section begins with a King quote that epitomizes the autobiographical material in that section.

The painstaking method used by Dr. Carson and his staff is illustrated in the section on King's arrest at an Atlanta lunch counter demonstration during the 1960 Presidential campaign. As pointed out by David Walton's New York Times Book Review it

"(The book) combines King's taped interview for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library with his statement to a judge rejecting release on bail, a letter to his wife, Coretta, describing his incarceration at Georgia's Reidsville Prison and a three-paragraph box ''On Richard Nixon'' from a letter written in 1958."

King had a wonderful way with words, attributable perhaps to his years as a preacher, his great intellect, and his tireless efforts in writing sermons, speeches and. You can get that sense reading this book.

King was a marvelous orator as well. You'll have to turn to DVDs and videos and listen to and watch him in order to really appreciate his masterful style -- especially his "I have a dream" speech. The complete text of that speech is included Carson's edited King Autobiography. When I read the text my mind visualizes King's voice projected throughout America.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was indeed a great American.

What other King books should be a must-read?

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    • John Dove profile imageAUTHOR

      John Dove 

      7 years ago

      Thank you, KrystalD. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the King's lasting achievements.

    • KrystalD profile image


      7 years ago from Los Angeles

      Beautiful and timely!


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