When I was a kid, MLK Day wasn’t an official holiday. When public pressure mounted to make it a nationally recognized holiday in the 1980s, fueled by Stevie Wonder’s call-to-action song, “Happy Birthday”, my mother started keeping me and my siblings out of school each January 15. Having lived her teenage years during the American modern civil rights movement, it was her way of honoring a man that she admired and a philosophy that she believed in.
While much is rightfully made of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s enviable oratorical skills, I’ve always been equally impressed with his literary talents. Some of his speeches were extemporaneous, but it’s important to remember that many more of those famous words originated on the page.
- As a young seminary student, King questioned religion’s role in perpetuating segregation, if the Bible was factual, and whether Christians could be Communists, fairly revolutionary stuff for its time.
- WHY WE CAN’T WAIT, an accounting of the 1963 civil rights campaign in Birmingham, Alabama. The book centers around King’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, written while he was imprisoned for his participation in nonviolent protests there.
- His 1964 Nobel Peace Prize speech entitled “An Audacious Faith in the Future”, where King draws a direct line from India’s nonviolent protests in to those in the United States, openly challenging the unique cognitive dissonance that occurs in a land where people are declared equal in word but not action, and where economic injustice is just as debilitating as racial inequity.
It’s in exploring King’s writings that I’ve discovered a fuller picture of his life and beliefs beyond the commonly-known sound bites, gaining a much deeper appreciation for the civil rights movement and those who supported it in ways both large and small, and often without recognition.
Find more writings related to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life at The King Center Imaging Project.