Friday, October 1, 2021

A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard

Summary:  "Power is the strength to bring about social, political, and economic change....Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love."  - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

His speeches stirred a generation to change -- and outlined a practical way to economic freedom and true democracy.  His words would help bring about the end of a brutally unequal system -- and would show a timeless method for achieving fairness and justice for all.

A Call to Conscience is a milestone collection of Dr. King's most influential and best known speeches.  Compiled by Stanford historian Dr. Clayborne Carson, director of the King Papers Project, and by contributing editor Kris Shepard, this volume takes you behind the scenes on an astonishing historical journey -- from the small crowded church in Montgomery, Alabama, where 'The Birth of a New Nation" ignited the modern civil rights movement, to the center of the nation's capital, where "I Have a Dream" echoed through a nations conscience; to the Mason Temple in Memphis, where over ten thousand people heard Dr. King give his last, transcendent speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," the night before his assassination.  In twelve important introductions, some of the world's most renowned leaders and theologians -- Andrew Young, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and Mrs. Rosa Parks, among others -- share with you their reflections on these speeches and give priceless firsthand testimony on the events that inspired their delivery.

Expressing a deeply felt faith in democracy, the power of loving change, and a self-deprecating humor, A Call to Conscience is Dr. King speaking today.  It is a unique, unforgettable record of the words that rallied millions, forever changed the face of America, and even today shape our deepest personal hopes and dreams for the future.

My Review:  A Call to Conscience is a collection of several of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s most impactful speeches, each introduced by a prominent member of the Black community or well-known ally (think Rosa Parks, John Lewis, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Representative John Lewis, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and Ambassador George McGovern).  Through these introductions, I was able understand the historical context surrounding each speech before I read it and learn more about Dr. King from the perspective of those who knew him.  The actual speeches include both Dr. King's words and the excited commentary from crowd (in parenthesis), which shows how his words engaged and resonated with his audience. As I read, I was blown away by just how much I didn't know about Martin Luther King, Jr. or the history surrounding the Civil Rights movement.  

Though Dr. King's life was abruptly and tragically cut short, he was a truly remarkable individual and a marvelous example of compassion, dedication and moral courage,   In the face of overwhelming and often violent opposition, he displayed a fervent commitment to unity and justice achieved through non-violent protest.  As a preacher and master orator, Dr. King blended his beloved Christian faith with his extensive knowledge of theology, politics, economics, history, and human nature, in such a way that his speeches lifted the hearts of the oppressed and awakened the conscience of the nation.  His words are, sadly, just as relevant now as they were in the 1950s-1960s and his solutions to many of the nation's complex racial and economic issues stand the test of time.  

In many of his speeches, Dr. King applauded the recent strides towards equality, but called on those who are content to sit in the shadows of bigotry and racism to do better.  For those who had not yet committed to the cause of justice, he called for action rather than silence.  I am by no means an expert in what Dr. King would or would not say, but I imagine he would give a similar message if he were alive today.  

In one of the final 'introductions,' I was struck by the words of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, which gave perhaps the most compelling reason to read this book:

 "Unfortunately, much of Dr. King's, broad and powerful message is in danger of being left behind as new generations come to know him only through history and see him as more myth than man.  His life and great works are still relevant to the complex realities of today's social problems, and if we allow the richness of his example to recede, we lose the opportunity to learn from him."

If you don't know much about Martin Luther King, Jr., I challenge you to read this book.  As you come to know Dr. King more fully, I think you'll agree that his call to action is imperative and his example, worthy of emulation.

My Rating:  5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Discussion of racism, violence against a Black population, use of the word 'Negro' 

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