The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. – Edited by Clayborne Carson

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, JR.

“To deprive man of freedom is to relegate him to the status of a thing, rather than elevate him to the status of a person.”- Dr. King.

I started reading this book on Dr. King Day (January 21,2013). It’s a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time and , as 2013 will be my year of reading biographies,  this was a great one to start with.

Lincoln emancipated the slaves but more than 100 years later, the descendants of the slaves were still living under segregation and fear. They weren’t free in the true sense of the word. There were separate facilities for Blacks and Whites; separate drinking fountains, restaurants, schools, churches etc, there was also widespread poverty. There were men and women who could not take this lying down. Probably one of the most famous was Dr. King himself. Using the philosophy of non-violence, which he adopted from Mahatma Gandhi, he and many others began the struggle for civil rights.

Segregated Water Fountains

Dr. King’s speeches and letters, which were printed all through the book, were phenomenal. The only one I’d heard/read thus far was his famous “I Have a Dream” speech but I must say his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was one of the best things I’ve ever read in my life.

“Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all it ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light injustice must be exposed with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion, before it can be cured.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr. – Letter from Birmingham Jail

The section depicting the Montgomery Bus Boycott was one of my favourite parts of the book. It started with Ms. Rosa Park’s refusal to move to the back of the bus, and set off a chain of events that were felt worldwide. It showed that if we all work in unity, great things can happen. Can we have a movement these days that has a similar impact?

What I liked about Dr. King’s character, apart from his humility and his desire for freedom for all, was his willingness to learn from people who may have radically different ideas from his own. Also, despite the fact that he was fighting for “Negro rights”, he did not attempt to paint White people as evil but acknowledged the ones who were allies for not being afraid to take a stand for civil rights.

“Of course there is one phase of liberalism that I hope to cherish always: its devotion to the search for truth, its insistence on an open and analytical mind, its refusal to abandon the best light of reason.” – Dr. King

Throughout the book I got the feeling that Dr. King knew he was going to be assassinated. I may be wrong of course but that’s definitely what it felt like.

When the end did come I couldn’t be more in awe of a man who felt so strongly for what he believed him that he sacrificed himself for the cause. Dr. King is a truly inspirational figure and I believe that this should be required reading for everyone.


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