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The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1998)

by Martin Luther King, Jr.

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At the request of the family of Martin Luther King, Jr., King Scholar Claybourne Carson used Stanford University’s vast collection of King’s essays, his speeches and interviews with King, to construct this book, which tells the story of King’s life, with particular attention on his work for Civil Rights and equal opportunities for black Americans. Each chapter focuses on a specific time, campaign or incident, and describes not only the events taking place, but King’s own determination to keep going, the difficulties that he faced – both emotionally and physically – and the reasoning behind his actions, including his absolute determination that the campaign should be non-violent.

I found the book thoroughly absorbing. King was clearly an eloquent man with a passionate belief in justice for all, and this comes through on every page. I knew about the man and his life prior to picking up this book, but reading his thoughts in his own words was still very enlightening. I was full of admiration for a man who knew that his work put him in physical danger and indeed saw friends and colleagues die for the cause, who felt sometimes that he was fighting a losing (non-violent) battle, who encountered differences of opinion even within his own campaign, but yet refused to give up striving for what was right and fair.

Clayborne Carson has done a wonderful job of using King’s writings to build a clear chronological narrative, and it was often heartbreaking, but never less than inspiring to read. I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. ( )
  Ruth72 | Jun 29, 2014 |
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pivotal player in the fight for Civil Rights. This autobiography includes the story of his life written in his own words and pieces of his speeches.

I read the audiobook version which is read by LeVar Burton and includes audio clips of King giving some of his famous speeches. It was powerful to hear the words from his own mouth, but sometimes those segments were harder to understand because of the quality of the recording and the clapping and cheering of the crowds.

It was heartbreaking to hear about King’s struggle with the continuous threats against himself and his family. Living in fear of imminent death affected his decisions. He writes about the bus strike, his time in jail, the march to Washington D.C. and more. I liked learning about his father and his wife’s role in the Civil Rights fight as well. Both played important roles in helping MLKJ become the man he needed to be to take on this fight.

One of the hardest parts of the Civil Rights movement was finding a balance between the goals of all the different groups involved. He was asked to support so many different causes and politicians and it was difficult to decide which ones to back. He also advocated nonviolence in a time when violence seemed to be the only answer. His courage was infectious and deciding not to fight gave others the guts to do the same.

BOTTOM LINE: I loved learning about King’s life and work, but the format made the book difficult. It switches back and forth between his biography and his speeches. Also, the audio version switches between LeVar Burton’s narration and MLKJ’s actual speeches, this is powerful but it changes the flow of the book significantly. A good read, but it’s not a true autobiography. ( )
  bookworm12 | Oct 7, 2013 |
As others have noted, this is not the autobiography of MLKJ. This is a collection of MLKJ's writings which have been edited by Clabyorne Carson into the appearance of an autobiography. In my opinion, it shouldn't claim the title it does because, due to the constraints of reality, this book necessarily presents an interpretation of an MLKJ autobiography. Though this book may represent the man himself and his beliefs very well, it still remains that Carson chose what to include, what to change, how to order the material, which selections of much longer speeches and letters to reprint, etc.

As a result, it can be pretty repetitive, somewhat superficial, and obviously incomplete. Still, for what it is (not what it claims to be), this book seems to be a good introduction to some of the beliefs and feelings of MLKJ, particularly highlighting his commitment to non-violence. ( )
  edenic | Feb 26, 2013 |
Throughout most of my life I've known of Mr. King as an African American preacher who stood up to the racial segregation and helped organize the bus boycott that eventually helped to end segregation. However, I recently bought and read an autobiography put together by Clayborne Carson, who is also responsible for gathering, sifting through, organizing, and publishing Mr. King's large collection of writings, speeches, etc. through the King Papers Project. While Mr. King never published an autobiography while he was alive, through all of the material he left behind (diaries, letters, interviews, etc.) Carson has put together Mr. King's views mostly as they relate to philosophy and his activism, though there is some more personal information about his life as well.

This book was a fantastic read. The writing is superb and Mr. Carson did a fabulous job in taking these many sources and creating a structured and clear narrative.

It truly took me on an emotional roller coaster ride to read about Mr. King's early life and the unfair segregation that he lived through and how he was treated and it made me very sad. I grew up in the 80's and 90's. Segregation had ended (unfortunately the racism that spawned it is still alive and well...) long before I was born and I hadn't (or didn't recall learning in school) about the treatment of African Americans in the 50's and before. It's opened my eyes even more so to the treatment these men and women had to endure. At the same time, while reading of Mr. King's triumphs (and the rest of the African American community at large), I felt a sense of joy and admiration for this man and the rest of the community who weren't afraid to speak their minds and speak out against such a horrible, unethical, and corrupt system.

If you want to learn more about Mr. King and the movements he helped lead I can't recommend this book enough. ( )
  PrimeTruth | Apr 20, 2012 |
'In 1985 Dr Carlson was invited by the King family to direct the long term project of editing and publishing the papers of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.' This excellent book is very readable and moves easily between commentary and extracts from his messages, preaches and letters. A moving, inspirational and thought provoking read. A lovely lesson in oratory too.

Favourite quotes:

a lesson for our politicians- ' I strongly feel that we must end not merely poverty among Negroes but poverty among white people. Like wise, I have always insisted on justice for all the world over, because justice is indivisible. And justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. '

'Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realisation that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.' ( )
  docliz | Jan 2, 2010 |
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Editor's Preface. I first saw Martin Luther King, Jr., from a distance.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0446676500, Paperback)

By weaving together an unprecedented amount of material, including Dr. King's books, articles, essays, personal letters, and unpublished manuscripts, Clayborne Carson (historian, documentarian, and director of the King Papers Project) has crafted an excellent production that represents the unique medium of audiobooks at its very best. With the effective and engaging narration of actor Levar Burton as a foundation, the tapes provide understanding and insight into this important religious and political leader's powerful convictions. Original music from the civil rights movement, plus rare recordings of Dr. King's moving speeches and sermons, help create an inspiring portrait of one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century. (Running time: 9 hours, 6 cassettes) --George Laney

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:06:35 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Drawing on King's unpublished writings and other materials, a civil rights scholar assembles a first-person narrative of King's life.

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