The best books on Martin Luther King, Jr.

W. Jason Miller Author Of Origins of the Dream: Hughes's Poetry and King's Rhetoric
By W. Jason Miller

The Books I Picked & Why

Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

By David J. Garrow

Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Why this book?

Because of the extensive personal interviews with those closest to Martin Luther King, I too started affectionately calling him “Doc” halfway through this Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography. This definitive work was my first (and favorite) entry into understanding one of the most important figures of the twentieth century. Garrow’s unquestioned accuracy, measured storytelling, and quick pacing bring to life all the big events and accomplices in King’s world. Only this biography pulls me right into the strained moments we all know such leaders endure during meaningful lives.


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Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Its Sources

By Keith D. Miller

Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Its Sources

Why this book?

This groundbreaking study is an insider’s guide to how a whole era of black southern preachers spoke to their congregations. Ever-curious about the artistry it takes to riff, remix, and sample earlier sources, this book illuminates the added depth that comes with language once the various trajectories of its previous uses are named, contextualized, and dated. Every new voice has an older one behind it. Seeing where they merge is a fascinating journey when someone this informed is driving.


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If Your Back's Not Bent: The Role of the Citizenship Education Program in the Civil Rights Movement

By Dorothy F. Cotton

If Your Back's Not Bent: The Role of the Citizenship Education Program in the Civil Rights Movement

Why this book?

Not scandalous like I Shared the Dream by Georgia Davis Powers, Cotton nonetheless enjoyed much greater access to King from 1963-68. While others may want to hear from the men who best knew King (such as Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Wyatt T. Walker, or Clarence Jones) the woman closest to him offers an immediate account of both the tensions inside the Southern Leadership Conference and throughout the nation during the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. Cotton’s life models the fortitude it took for a woman to rise to the role of leadership within King’s inner circle, as she became the Director of the Citizenship Education Program run by King’s organization.


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The Seminarian: Martin Luther King Jr. Comes of Age

By Patrick Parr

The Seminarian: Martin Luther King Jr. Comes of Age

Why this book?

Ever wonder how a kid from Atlanta became the leader of the 1960s civil rights movement? This book shows you through its rare photographs and compressed prose. Focusing on the crucial (and overlooked) years in King’s life (when he was training to be the preacher we now know), this book shows him shooting pool as much as studying. Remarkable interviews with his classmates, as well as a stunner with a white woman King seriously considered marrying, make this a real page-turner.


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The Preacher King: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Word That Moved America

By Richard Lischer

The Preacher King: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Word That Moved America

Why this book?

This surprisingly approachable book is written by a genuine expert in the field. Well before I reached the end, I knew every landmark trait of the preacher would be fully covered. Where other authors such as Michael K. Honey cover King’s relationship to the labor movement with true aplomb, Lischer takes me deeper into the language where I live. Here cadence, delivery, and poetry are explored as expressive modes that empower real listeners to act. This book reminds us that inspiration was required as much as strategy when it came to moving the nation closer to its ideals.     


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