03.19.2018

50 years after his death, new books shed light on Martin Luther King Jr.

50 years after his death, new books shed light on Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo: Charles Kelly, AP)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was — like many great preachers — a great writer.

The Nobel Prize winner for peace never earned any significant literary awards, but he was a master of the written as well as the spoken word, even if it was mostly through his oratory that the words he brought together came alive and became unforgettable.

In addition to composing the famous Letter from Birmingham Jail and drafting world-changing sermons and speeches ("I Have a Dream"), King authored numerous books about his philosophy of nonviolence and the battle for civil rights. Some of these include 1964's Why We Can't Wait — its title an acknowledgment that nonviolence and impatience are not incompatible — and 1967's Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? an activist's guide that has lost none of its relevance or radicalism (King endorses the idea of a government-organized "guaranteed income" for all U.S. adults). 

But if King was prolific, the output of the King literary industry is all but immeasurable.

Since the human rights leader's assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, scholars, historians, biographers, gossips, debunkers, hagiographers, amateurs, conspiracy theorists and others have issued volume after volume of alternately essential and disposable works about the life and legacy of King. The scope ranges from Taylor Branch's Pulitzer Prize-winning trilogy, America in the King Years, which numbers close to 3,000 pages, to the Scholastic children's book My First Biography: Martin Luther King Jr., which distills King's message to 30 colorfully illustrated pages.

Needless to say, this year's 50th anniversary of King's death, which is being recognized with a variety of events, projects, tributes and products collectively identified by the rubric "MLK50," has reignited interest in King and inspired many new books about the civil rights leader, civil rights in general and other related topics.

Here is a look at several of the more promising or interesting titles currently or soon to be available.

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