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HALL OF FAMEon February 24, 2006
Martin Luther King, Jr., is without a doubt one of the most influential and pivotal figures in twentieth-century history. In addition to his work as a Civil Rights leader, his role as a father and pastor, he also was an extensively published writer. However, he never had the chance to write an autobiography in the traditional sense. We as readers in the present day and the future have lost the private details that might have been fleshed out in a proper autobiography, but this skillfully crafted work by Clayborne Carson has given us a religious and political autobiography, revealed in King's almost countless papers (published and unpublished), interviews, letters, sermons and public statements.
Carson, author and editor of many books relating to the Civil Rights struggle, edited a collection of King's speeches entitled 'A Knock at Midnight', and was selected by the King estate to put together this in conjunction with (according to Carson) dozens of staff and student workers forming part of the King Papers Project. Carson used particular methodology consistently in his reconstruction - that of relying primarily on the words of King himself (utilising early drafts of later writings to discern the difference between authorial and editorial intentions) and developing them as if this overall narrative account was constructed near the end of King's life.
King's autobiography begins at the beginning, with is childhood as a preacher's kid (who was himself a preacher's kid, who was himself a preacher's kid, etc.). King said, 'of course I was religious.... I didn't have much choice.' King explains the different strands in his life, that of being both militant and moderate, idealistic and realistic, as beginning here. Here he developed questions ('how could I love a race of people who hated me?') and some answers (he learned that racial injustice was paralleled by economic injustice, and realised that poor white people were exploited also).
King's call to ministry and call to ethical and prophetic witness in the world developed through his schooling at Morehouse College, Crozer Seminary, and Boston University, where he developed interest in theology and social philosophy that would lead him to eventually to his ideas of civil rights activitsm. This would not take practical shape, however, until he was back in the South and working at churches and participating in actual events. He describes his involvement with Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Movement as a mountaintop experience, which also led to an awakening, both in King and in the community, of the power of nonviolent action a la Mahatma Gandhi.
It is almost incomprehensible to read this autobiography and realise that in a span of barely more than a dozen years (Rosa Parks was arrested for her action in December of 1955; King was assassinated in 1968) so much of what we consider to be the central history of the Civil Rights struggle occurred. Within the pages of text, King talks about the struggles of the common people and the dealings with the powerful, from the police in Alabama jurisdictions to dealing with federal government officials and organisations.
In the midst of all of this work, King managed to remain a family man, devoted to his wife and children, and a tireless worker in the church. Carson admits to not being able to develop too much of an interior autobiography in these kinds of sections (as even in King's private papers and writings, too much remains unrecorded), but his life in this regard still comes through many aspects of his writings, sermons and speeches.
This is an incredible book, and should be read as a required part of the education of an American, as it recounts a remarkable and astonishing part of history that continues to shape the direction of the nation to this day.
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on September 6, 2003
As I sit here listening to Beethoven, it strikes me that MLK, like Beethoven, will be a man for all ages to come. Both have given the world a gift that we must cherish and always remember.
Let me first say, that I too am glad that Dr. King did not sneeze. That would have been a loss of an unimaginable magnitude.
The other reviewers of this book are on target. This is an extraordinary piece of literature that should be a must read for all students. I was midway through my seventh year when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. And although I remember the event it did not resonate fully with me until last year when I took a master's level Civil Rights course. Throughout my own formative years of primary, secondary, and post-secondary liberal arts education, none of my history or social studies courses concentrated on this era of American History. This is a sad commentary and an oversight that needs to change.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was a great man in American History and must be given the credit deserving of his greatness - the book, as articulated by the other reviewers, provides a comprehensive look into that greatness. It is my opinion that God was truly with this man as he undertook his overwhelming mission to obtain freedom and equality for a people so maligned by the majority.
This book was so well-written that I even read the Editor's Acknowledgements. It is so well-written that one can easily become lost in time and simply continue to read chapter after chapter. I could go on, but will stop. I wish to thank Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her undying devotion to her husband and his work; to console her for her unfathomable loss thirty-five years ago, and for not only reviewing this book for accuracy before publication, but also to permit its publication so that Americans from all backgrounds may appreciate and learn.
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on October 22, 2002
The book "The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr." is Stanford University historian Clayborne Carson's amazing account of one of the most impressive leaders to have ever lived.
This is an outstanding biography and it accounts for the full story of Dr. King, literally from cradle to grave. Martin Luther King Jr. at university, when he met his wife Coretta, their children being born, the movement begins, fights and struggles, getting arrested etc. etc. Carson does an absolutely amazing job transporting the reader into Dr. King's thoughts, ideas and feelings. I have only read a couple of other biographies that I rank as high as I rank this one. The other two are Che Guevara and Malcolm X's biographies.
Few people are given strength, means and opportunity to make a real and great impact in the world. Martin Luther King Jr. was not only given such opportunity; he seized upon his opportunity as well. His fights and sacrifices made life better not only for millions of black people in America - his fight made the world a better place to be for all of us.
The author uses Dr. King's letters, college papers, and speeches; such as the "I have a dream" speech from 1963, and the Nobel Peace Prize speech from 1964 when telling his story. I had never read the whole "I have a dream" speech, so I greatly enjoyed that.
Carson has done a great jobs combining his own research with Dr. King's own speeches and writings and this is all masterfully woven together into a unique biography. Dr. King had a huge impact on the Civil Right movement, and he made his way into American history as one of its greatest, most charismatic leaders ever.
My recommendation is given for two reasons. Firstly, Dr. King is an extraordinary interesting subject, but also because of Carson's excellent job writing this biography.
Great read - highly recommended!
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on September 4, 2003
This is at one level an uplifting autobiography of an extraordinary man but at another level it is a guide to us a people living in a cynical (we call it "realistic") age in which we are bombarded by so many causes; all of them claiming to worthwhile, all of them claiming that they will uplift human dignity and freedom. How can we choose amongst these causes? How can we tell which cause is truly just and, having decided, how do we champion it effectively?
In his autobiography, Martin Luther King helps us do so. He explains that "constructive ends can never give absolute moral justification to destructive means, because in the final analysis the end is preexistent in the means" (20). Thus, if those whose cause we would champion are murdering babies to achieve justice, the end they and we will achieve will be child murderers whether we want it or not. But if those whose cause we would champion march peacefully to save a life, write countless letters on behalf of a starving child, collect money so that a woman who has been cast out by her society and is facing death might have a good legal defense, then we can be assured that the end we will achieve with our peaceful means will be a saved and happy life. Not least of all our own.
And how should we effectively champion our truly just cause; a cause we know is just because the means its proponents use to achieve their ends are right and noble? We should concentrate on one issue at a time, highlighting that one issue by non-violent means. And we must use nonviolence for today we do not face a choice between violence and non-violence but between "nonviolence and nonexistence" (360).
So let us choose, in our cause and in our methods existence over the nihilism of all too many movements that claim to be revolutionary and yet which "reject the one thing that keep the fire of revolutions burning: the ever-present flame of hope" (329). Let us choose those causes that would bring our fellow men and women life and that would bring us all hope. Let us follow in the footsteps of Dr Martin Luther King and, like him, not follow false causes that (like the Black Power Movement he gives as an example) promise much but deliver only death and despair.
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on September 10, 2002
The autobiography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a triumph. Although not an "autobiography" in a strict sense, this book offers a unique glimpse into the life of one of history's most important activists. Clayborne Carson, through an exhaustive research of Dr. King's writings, speeches, and tapes, has put together a very seamless and elegant compilation that could very well have been an autobiography had Dr. King lived.
The work begins with thoughts about Dr. King's childhood, his description of his family, his years at Boston University, and his first encounter with his wife. Many of his philosophical thoughts, that grew in his formative years and yet radically influenced his peace movement, are described with an eloquent speech and astounding detail. His love for his wife Coretta and the unconditional devotion to her (and vice versa) permeates throughout this book. Dr. King vividly describes his devotion to the principles of nonviolence, his thoughts on Thoreau and Gandhi, the tales of his travels to Africa and India, his views on Kennedy, LBJ, and Malcolm X. Nonviolent resistance, he insists, is not nonresistance to violence, but a much more active and intense undertaking. Many of his famous speeches are included, and yet there are scores of other lines and quotations throughout this work that I read several times over for their simple beauty and power. "Injustice anywhere, Dr. King writes, is a threat to justice everywhere."
This work is a must-read. In a world that is currently so wrapped up in war and hostility, where violence seems to have gained the upper hand in so many areas of the world, Dr. King's love, wisdom, perserverance, and unshakable search for peace still stand out as lessons to us all.
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on October 23, 2001
Dr. King has become such an American icon that it's easy to forget what a brilliant, passionate man he was. This "autobiography" will remind you. Clayborne Carson does a masterful job of weaving King's writings and speeches together into what serves as a credible autobiography but more importantly, as a chronicle of King's powerful oratory.
I found the book an endless source of inspiration for me as a pacifist and believer in justice and equality for all.
Here are the unforgettable words, not only of the "I Have A Dream Speech" and "The Letter From a Birmingham Jail" but other speeches and writings as well and the stories behind them. We are constantly reminded that King was both a determined and eloquent leader, who was the focal point of America's most succesful social movement.
This is not only unique as an autobiography because it wasn't really written as such, but because it is such a rich source of wisdom and passion.
It's a book to be read and kept handy. I'll be referring to it often and reading it again.
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on July 18, 2001
I really liked the book. I thought that it was well written and easy to understand. I realized that it wasn't being wrote by Dr. King himself, so I had to read carefully and try to pick up MLK's ideas, instead the author's ideas. However, it was still a great book. I felt that Clayborne Carson did a good job when he composed the book. He took into consideration all of King's life, and the experiences which most influenced his fight towards freedom. I really liked the speeches delivered by Dr. King, as well as all of his other writtings. I like reading them because they are very motivational, and King uses powerful, profound words, which are convey his point in a very strong, and meaningful way. The book is excellent to read, it is a little bit long, but it features large print. I would recommend it to anyone. I think that everybody should read this book, just so everybody could understand where racism and prejudice comes from. We have to realize that all this is a thing of the past, and we have to put it behind us.
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on January 4, 2001
Selected by the Reverend King's heirs, Stanford University history professor Clayborne Carson archived the massive papers, videos, and recordings of one of the most influential twentieth century figures. The reader gets a feel for Dr. King as a person who lived the words he uttered. More important is that the audience sees a complete, compassionate, caring human being instead of a federal holiday.
Though authorized, this is a fascinating autobiography that provides insight to a time when support of Civil Rights proved deadly. Those readers who seek sensationalism would be better suited filing a freedom of information request to gain access to Hoover's files. Those individuals who want to better comprehend history or simply gain an understanding of one of the previous century's giants, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. is the right stuff.

Harriet Klausner
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on January 25, 2001
Clayborne Carson has done a great job of combining MLK's writings and speeches into a single narrative that tells the story of King's life and the amazing impact he had on the U.S. civil rights movement. This is not Mr. Carson writing from the perspective of Dr. King; it's King's words almost verbatim, with relatively minor editorial changes to allow disparate writings to flow together into an autobiography that otherwise simply would not exist. Of course, as any autobiography would, this book only tells the story of the civil rights movement from a single perspective -- but in this case, that perspective gives truly unique insight into the philosophy that drove King every day of his life. And it's impossible not to be moved by King's last sermon, which ends with an inspiring, heart-wrenching foreshadowing of the fate that awaited him the very next day.
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on April 28, 2004
This book should be must reading (or in my case listening) for all Americans. The threads of a single man's search for freedom for all are woven in a tapestry of the times he lived with powerful choices of recorded speeches.
I had two of my daughters listen to his reading of his letter from the Birmingham jail and the conversation that followed enriched all of us. Current "Black Leaders" would do well to seek inspiration from his words and recall a time when the motivating factors were the need for freedom, justice and equality independant of financial desires other than the monies needed to accomplish the task at hand. His views of Malcolm X were also well laid out and deserve attention beyond the hollywood version.
If you weren't black then, sympathy is easy but empathy requires study ... this book goes a long way.
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