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Remembering the King: Reads for MLK Day 2024


Remembering the King: Reads for MLK Day 2024

remembering mlk

Drawing inspiration from both his Christian faith and the peaceful teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a nonviolent civil rights movement in the late 1950’s and ‘60s to achieve legal equality for African-Americans in the United States. 

He also did all he could to make people realize that “all men are created equal.” and to guide a broken nation toward a future where people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Because of his great work, in 1964 King received the Nobel Peace Prize — the youngest person ever to receive this high honor.

Each year, the United States honors and celebrates King’s life and legacy on the third Monday in January. MLK Day is an official national day of service where citizens are encouraged to volunteer their time to make a positive change in their community.  As the country continues to grapple with racial inequalities and divisiveness, and as we see that much of his dream remains unrealized, King’s struggle for equality, liberty, and justice stays strongly relevant and inspirational.

Here are some books/ebooks available in the Livingston Library’s adult collection that honor the life and legacy of Dr. King and the history of the civil rights movement.  

The Library offers access to Kanopy, which  has a great selection of films and documentaries on this civil rights colossus.

In the voice of MLK

About MLK

alabama v king

Alabama v. King : Martin Luther King Jr. and the Criminal Trial That Launched the Civil Rights Movement by Dan Abrams

 Fred D. Gray was just twenty-four years old when he became the defense lawyer for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a young minister who had become the face of the bus boycott that had rocked the city of Montgomery, Alabama. In this incredible history, Abrams takes us behind the scenes of that landmark case, including such unforgettable moments as: Martin Luther King’s courageous response to a bomb threat on his own home ; poignant, searing testimony that exposed the South’s racist systems to an worldwide audience ; the conspiracy to destroy Gray’s career and draft him into the Vietnam War ; and the unforgettable moment when a Supreme Court ruling brought the courtroom to a halt

Daddy King: An Autobiography by Martin Luther King, Sr.

From growing up amidst poverty and racism to preaching from the Ebenezer pulpit for forty years, King, Sr., reveals his life inside the civil rights movement—illustrating the profound influence he had on his son.

Death of a King: the Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year by Tavis Smiley

Martin Luther King, Jr. died in one of the most shocking assassinations the world has known, but little is remembered about the life he led in his final year. Smiley recounts the final 365 days of King’s life, revealing the minister’s trials and tribulations — denunciations by the press, rejection from the president, dismissal by the country’s black middle class and militants, assaults on his character, ideology, and political tactics, to name a few — all of which he had to rise above in order to lead and address the racism, poverty, and militarism that threatened to destroy our democracy.

Gospel of Freedom : Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle that Changed a Nation by Jonathan Reider

Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama, for violating a court injunction against marching in the city’s streets. His plan, his vision, had been to instigate a nonviolent protest in an effort to integrate Birmingham’s downtown stores. Eight local clergymen charged King as being a violent extremist. In response, King wrote Letter from Birmingham Jail. On the fiftieth anniversary of its writing, Rieder offers a sparkling reconsideration of the letter, now considered a landmark American document on a par with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Rieder’s trenchant comments approach the letter on historical and literary grounds but also as a way to better understand the often elusive King. Several chapters offer a close analysis of the letter, while later chapters trace the impact it had on subsequent events, from King’s I Have a Dream speech to the bombing of the church in Birmingham in which four little girls were killed. He concludes by proclaiming the letter’s universality as it continues to find advocates from Tiananmen Square to Tahrir Square.

The Heavens Might Crack : the Death and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Jason Sokol

A vivid portrait of how Americans grappled with King’s death and legacy in the days, weeks, and months after his assassination. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. At the time of his murder, King was a polarizing figure–scorned by many white Americans, worshipped by some African Americans and liberal whites, and deemed irrelevant by many black youth. In The Heavens Might Crack, historian Jason Sokol traces the diverse responses, both in America and throughout the world, to King’s death. Whether celebrating or mourning, most agreed that the final flicker of hope for a multiracial America had been extinguished. 

Kennedy and King : The President, The Pastor, And The Battle Over Civil Rights by Steven Levingston

This book traces the emergence of two of the twentieth century’s greatest leaders, their powerful impact on each other and on the shape of the civil rights battle between 1960 and 1963. These two men from starkly different worlds profoundly influenced each other’s personal development. Kennedy’s hesitation on civil rights spurred King to greater acts of courage, and King inspired Kennedy to finally make a moral commitment to equality.

killing king

Killing King : Racial Terrorists, James Earl Ray, and the Plot to Assassinate Martin Luther King Jr. by Stuart Wexler

Published in time for the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, this book uncovers previously unknown FBI files and sources, as well as new forensics to convincingly make the case that King was assassinated by a long-simmering conspiracy orchestrated by the racial terrorists who were responsible for the Mississippi Burning murders.

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig

Vividly written and exhaustively researched, Eig’s is the first major biography in decades of the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.–and the first to include recently declassified FBI files. In this revelatory new portrait of the preacher and activist who shook the world, the bestselling biographer gives us an intimate view of the courageous and often emotionally troubled human being who demanded peaceful protest for his movement but was rarely at peace with himself. He casts fresh light on the King family’s origins as well as MLK’s complex relationships with his wife, father, and fellow activists. King reveals a minister wrestling with his own human frailties and dark moods, a citizen hunted by his own government, and a man determined to fight for justice even if it proved to be a fight to the death.

The Kneeling Man : My Father’s Life as a Black Spy Who Witnessed the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. by Leta McCoullough Seletzky

The intimate and heartbreaking story of a Black undercover police officer who famously kneeled by the assassinated Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr–and a daughter’s quest for the truth about her father.  In the famous photograph of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on the balcony of Memphis’s Lorraine Motel, one man kneeled down beside King, trying to staunch the blood from his fatal head wound with a borrowed towel. This kneeling man was a member of the Invaders, an activist group that was in talks with King in the days leading up to the murder. But he also had another identity: an undercover Memphis police officer reporting on the activities of this group, which was thought to be possibly dangerous and potentially violent. This kneeling man is Leta McCollough Seletzky’s father.

Letters to Martin : Meditations on Democracy in Black America by Randal Maurice Jelks

Jelks’s meditations are written in the form of letters to Martin Luther King Jr. He speaks to the many public issues we presently confront in the United States: economic inequality, freedom of assembly, police brutality, ongoing social class conflicts, and geopolitics. The result is a contemporary revival of the literary tradition of meditative social analysis. These meditations on democracy provide spiritual oxygen to help readers endure the struggles of rebranding, rebuilding, and reforming our democratic institutions so that we can all breathe. 

My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King & Phylicia Rashad (Audiobook)

The life story of Coretta Scott King—wife of Martin Luther King Jr., founder of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and singular twentieth-century American civil rights activist—as told fully for the first time, toward the end of her life, to one of her closest friends.

Nine Days : The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life and Win the 1960 Election by Stephen Kendrick

A history of the 1960 US presidential election with a focus on the role played by the imprisonment of Martin Luther King Jr. in the wake of an Atlanta sit-in.

to shape a new world

To Shape a New World : Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Despite his stature, the significance of King’s writings and political thought remains underappreciated. Tommie Shelby and Brandon Terry write that the marginalization of King’s ideas reflects a romantic, consensus history that renders the civil rights movement inherently conservative–an effort not at radical reform but at “living up to” enduring ideals laid down by the nation’s founders. Cornel West, Danielle Allen, Martha Nussbaum, Robert Gooding-Williams, and other authors join Shelby and Terry in careful, critical engagement with King’s understudied writings on labor and welfare rights, voting rights, racism, civil disobedience, nonviolence, economic inequality, poverty, love, just-war theory, virtue ethics, political theology, imperialism, nationalism, reparations, and social justice.

To the Promised Land : Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice by Michael K. Honey

Drawing on a new generation of scholarship about the civil rights era in America, Honey goes beyond the iconic view of Martin Luther King as an advocate of racial harmony to explore his profound commitment to the poor and working class, and his call for “non-violent resistance” to all forms of oppression, including economic injustice. Phase one of that struggle led to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. In phase two, King organized poor people and demonstrated for union rights, while seeking a “moral revolution” to replace the self-seeking individualism of the rich with an overriding concern for the common good.

Waking From The Dream: The Struggle For Civil Rights In The Shadow Of Martin Luther King, Jr. by David L. Chappell

A sweeping history of the years after Martin Luther King’s assassination—and the struggle to keep the civil rights movement alive and realize King’s vision of an equal society.

You Have to be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live : Ten Weeks in Birmingham that Changed America by Paul Kix

Taking readers behind the scenes of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s pivotal 10-week campaign in 1963 to end segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, a journalist zeroes in on its specific history and its echoes throughout our culture now.

Archana Chiplunkar, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian 


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