1963. The March on Washington. I Have a Dream. There has been so, so much written over the last decades, and these last days, about this iconic moment in American history that I am reluctant to add more.
I hope you know that our Hearts & Minds bookstore has a large selection of books about Dr. King, a larger section of books about the civil rights movement, and an even larger section of books about contemporary race relations, multi-cultural concerns, and the ways in which the gospel can help heal the wounds and foibles of 21st century ethnic tensions. We have a sub-section just on churches and how congregations can be more sensitive to multi-cultural concerns, which I would think church leaders would occasionally buy.
Given the great needs and great opportunities in this area, I believe it is professional malpractice for clergy to not have read at least one book on this subject, deepening one’s awareness of “cultural intelligence.” At the risk of seeming to open my column about the historic speech with a digression, please note this: a massive research project, co-led by an old and trusted friend, gave rise to a new book on what the research shows helps create clergy resilience. That is, what do the most long-lasting, fruitful, happy, well-balanced pastors do; what factors help nurture resilience? How can you, if you are a pastor, or your pastor, if you’ve got one, grow and thrive? And one of the practices is, curiously, developing a cross-cultural sensitivity. Even those in mostly white congregations, this data suggests, will thrive in their ministries if they’ve taken initiative to learn and grow in this very arena. See Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving by Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman and Donald Guthrie (IVP; $17.00) for more.
So, we have a lot of these books, are glad to offer them, and feel a certain urgency to continue to promote titles about racial justice and multi-ethnic ministry. Pastors and church leaders should take note, but this — I am sure — will be interesting and helpful for all of us. There are tons of books on this topic, and here are some of our selections.
This week we will all surely ponder that great event of August 1963, and notice the powerful pictures, the inter-faith leadership, the historic music, the coats and ties and Sunday best as Negro folks, especially, poured in to the city. I trust that many BookNotes readers will be glad to learn of good resources to help them learn more about this extraordinary, historic – and this time, the word is well-used! Historic! – event from 50 years ago. Here are some that we heartily recommend. As always, we have them on sale here at BookNotes, and it would be our great pleasure to serve you by sending them out. Use the order form page at the website, or send us an email. Thanks!
The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement Taylor Branch (Simon & Schuster) $26.00 This spectacular book includes selections from the hefty “American in the King Years” trilogy, the Pulitzer Prize winning magisterial volumes that are the gold standard for the history of this era. Branch sets up each excerpt with new introductions, making this an exceptionally interesting and splendidly useful brief resource. I can’t say enough about it (although you can read my brief review in my “Politics & Prose” column at CPJ’s Capitol Commentary where I wrote about it.)
Reading this sort of book will make abundantly clear that the March on Washington was part of a larger, broader project, which includes very important episodes such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott (and King’s first public address in 1955!), the student sit-ins of 1960, the Freedom Rides (and the Nashville Initiative of 1961), and of course Birmingham 1963 — in many ways it was the horrors and small victory of Birmingham that Spring the compelled the national civil rights organizations to unite around the idea of a national march.
I am sure that some of the best coverage we’ll see this weekend will educate us about this essential American story, but I do sometimes fret that some of the coverage will romanticize the speech itself (or, as is often the case, excerpt just the lovely “dream” part about the children playing together, failing to even grapple with the full content of the speech, let alone the March, let alone the broader civil rights struggle of which it was a part.) So, read up, brothers and sisters. This is vital stuff, inspiring, important.
God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights Charles Marsh (Princeton University Press) $18.95 There are so many great books about the civil rights movement, but few are as well written, as captivating, as raw, and as insightful as this. It is compelling in an odd, even curious way; it shows how many on both sides of the movement were guided by faith, and in some cases, the exact same Bible verses! What a poignant, weird, illuminating story, opening us up to the human drama behind these famous episodes. This is as profound as it gets, and a truly fascinating reading experience. In Christianity Today, Randy Frame wrote that it is “haunting” and that “Marsh’s work speaks directly to the development of our own moral lives.” Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post declared that it is “original and uncommonly thoughtful.”
This fine work looks at the summer of 1964, in the alarmingly violent Mississippi, where you meat lively people you will never forget, such as Fannie Lou Hamer.
Weary Feet, Rested Souls: A Guided History of the Civil Rights Movement Townsend Davis (Norton) $16.95 This is, literally, a guide to how to take a civil rights tour in any number of key cities throughout the South. There are little maps and, like any travel guide, suggestions of what to see and what to look for. But it is more, much more. In its over 425 pages it has sidebars and long narratives, brimming with anecdotes and local histories, including first-person accounts of the amazing courage shown in these dramas of resistance to state-sponsored terrorism. Some of the stories are gut-wrenching and the eye for historical detail is amazing. What a way to learn! There are so many un-sung local heroes, so many awful stories, so many noble efforts, often faith-based and deeply inspiring. As Marian Wright Edelman wrote, it is “splendid. Weary Feet, Rested Souls is a valuable and beautiful road map to a landscape we must not forget.” Pulitzer Prize winner David J. Garrow says, “No other book on the movement offers a better “sense of place” and Weary Feet will allow you to follow in the footsteps of movement marchers all the way from Arkansas to North Carolina. Weary Feet is a moving, accurate guide, and an invaluable contribution to civil rights history.”
The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation Drew D. Hansen (Harper) $13.99 Glad this is now out in paperback (although we could sell you a good hardback or two at the paperback price, if you’d like that.) I have already noted that I sometimes fret that we don’t grapple adequately with the big, radical, goals of the civil rights movement, and the “I Have a Dream” speech can so easily be tamed and co-opted. King was a civil and eloquent Baptist pastor, but he, like Aslan before him, was not safe. We must recall — as the stunning first chapter of this book helps us do — that just months earlier the fire hoses were viciously set upon children; Bobby Kennedy directly made sure the Washington DC police dogs would not be out on August 28th as they would remind people of their awful, vile use in Birmingham. The White House called a meeting early in the summer to try to stop this march. It was tense and the time were dangerous.
King and his colleagues in the movement can be domesticated, and have been; the whole “I Have a Dream” sequence has been, too — often. This is to say that Drew Hansen’s very good book will have none of that. It deftly explores the fascinating build up to the great day, the behind the scenes stuff, the celebrities and the push-back and the feedback – “Damn, he’s good” Kennedy said from the White House window. It is, in the words of David Garrow (a Pulitzer Prize winning author of Bearing the Cross, one of the definitive books in the King studies field) “superbly perceptive.” Clayborne Carson, who is the director of the King papers project at Stanford, who was at the March on Washington and knows King’s work well, says of Hansen’s The Dream, “It accomplishes the remarkable feat of illuminating the deep historical, biographical, and intellectual roots of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, while also illuminating the reasons for its lasting impact.” The always wise Dr. Robert Coles says it is “a book that students of literature and history will want to read carefully: a great person’s words become a crucial turning point in a nation’s history.” Very, very nicely done.
Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader Troy Jackson (Kentucky University Press ) $35.00 Troy is an amazing youngish pastor in Cincinnati, he has a PhD in history (and a seminary degree from Princeton) and had the remarkable privilege of being an editor of one of the esteemed Papers of Martin Luther King volumes. So he is an active pastor and a good scholar. Becoming King studies the Montgomery bus boycott, and how King was catapulted there into leadership in a way that decisively shaped King’s identity as a civil rights leader. It has a great foreword by the important King scholar, Clayborne Carson. Consider this quote by Chana Kai Lee (who wrote the definitive work on Fannie Lou Hamer, by the way, called For Freedom’s Sake) “A sharply conceived and effectively rendered study that reminds us once again that the notional of a “historical accident” is woefully inadequate – indeed, too simplistic – in understanding the scope of arguably the greatest civil rights movement campaign and one of the most compelling twentieth century figures.”
The Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed the Nation Jonathan Rieder (Bloomsbury) $25.00 What a thrilling, important and wonderful book this is. I’ve said before about it that it is a tremendous read – and so helpful to show the essential background and context to the letter, and the immediate struggle in that awful era in the south, and in Birmingham, particularly. You probably know that the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” has been put into dozens (if not hundreds) of anthologies and readers, and is considered one of the great pieces of literature and social ethics ever penned. Reading this wonderful book would be a great honor to the great Dr. King, and will help you realize some of what was “in the air” in the years right before the famous March on Washington. In fact, one can hardly understand the “I Have a Dream” speech without knowing about Birmingham.
Blessed are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther King, Jr., Eight White Religious Leaders, and the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” S. Jonathan Bass (Louisana State University Press) $39.99 HALF PRICE $19.99 (while supplies last) This is sadly out of print, and we have just one left, on sale, even, but it should be listed. How many books have an endorsing blurb from the great Will Campbell? I learned a lot from this, I recall – it was the first full accounting of the letter and showed what scholars might call “its mediated context.” That is, we are told about the complex elements of the Letter’s production and offered a “substantive challenge to the lore that surrounds its creation.” But here is the thing to realize: the eight moderate clergyman (who criticized George Wallace, by the way as well as Dr. King) are given their due and readers may come away with a greater appreciation for their role in working for careful social change in the South. Serious and illuminating.
While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age During the Civil Rights Movement Carolyn Maull McKinstry with Denise George (Tyndale) $17.99 It has also been a half a century since the KKK bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, shortly after 10 am on a Sunday morning (September 15, 1963 — less than a month after the famous March on Washington and the speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial.) The four young girls that died in that blast were good friends of Carolyn Maull McKinstry. Here is what she writes in the introduction to this moving, personal story by a fairly ordinary young person growing up in those traumatic years:
For nearly five decades now I have tried to forget the deaths, the inhumane injustices, the vicious German shepherds, the fierce blast of the water hoses, and the brutal assassinations of those who spoke out for change. But now, as I see new generations coming and old generations passing, I feel compelled to write down in permanent ink my eyewitness account of exactly what happened… while the world watched.
Ms Maull McKinstry is an often-cited spokesperson, has appeared in magazines, shows, and studies as diverse as Oprah, 20/20, and Spike Lee’s documentary Four Little Girls. She remains active in her home church and is a wise voice for gospel-driven racial reconciliation. She recently earned an MDiv from Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham.
Free at Last? The Gospel in the African American Experience Carl F. Ellis, Jr. (IVP) $21.95 Looking back, I think I’d say this is one of the best books I’ve ever read on this topic, and certainly one of the most formative in my own journey. (Its earliest version was called Beyond Liberation and this is a considerably expanded version.) Rev. Ellis has long been a friend of the CCO and has spoken at our Jubilee conference often; his commitments to Reformed theology and thoughtful cultural engagement are well-respected. As it says on the back cover, “Ellis traces the maturing of Black consciousness from slavery days to the present, noting especially the contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Running through African-American history are traces of a theological soul dynamic, an authentic manifestation of Christianity in black culture. In this dynamic faith, says Ellis, African Americans will find true freedom in God’s grace.” I think this is important for one and all — a classic book for us here at Hearts & Minds and therefore one we heartily recommend.
Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero Vincent Harding (Orbis) $16.00 Go to any library and you can find a dozen or more books on King. Here in the shop, we have them for little children, for older youth, and bunches for adults, of every size and shape and level. Some are about his life, some about his convictions. This is one of the very, very best, in part because Harding calls us to the most radical visions and deepest hopes of King, including his concerns and action on behalf of the poor in the northern ghettos, his critique of the Viet Nam war, his work with the Poor People’s Campaign, and, of course, his principled, strategic nonviolence. Harding himself is an eloquent, passionate writer, and being with him once — with Parker Palmer at his side — was a great, great moment which I cherish to this day. Harding is an amazing writer, his insights about King are profound, and whether you finally agree with him – or his interpretation of King – or not, you should read this little volume. It is powerful and will stretch you, I promise.
Reading Harding would truly be a very good way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which it was delivered. Can we have the speech without the March? Can we have the March without King’s radical Christian social gospel? Without his commitment to nonviolence and global justice? Can we honor him well without Harding’s insight? Read this book and you will know. It is an amazing reading experience.
By the way, for a speculation of how King might have turned more conservative in his social policies in the new century, very much unlike the little classic by Harding, read this controversial, but very interesting study, What Would Martin Say by Clarence Jones (Harper; $14.99.) Jones knew King well and was a confidant for many years, and he obviously knows ML’s writings, so when he weighs in on very modern issues, he has good reasons for why he thinks Dr. King would have shifted in his policy analysis and proposals. But many thought his effort presumptuous at best and not as likely as Jones speculates…
Martin Luther King Jr. for Armchair Theologians Rufus Burrows Jr with illustrations by Ron Hill (WJK) $16.95 We often recommend these small, easy-to-read, but substantive paperbacks. (The series includes a bunch of different ones, all “for armchair theologians” including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Heretics.) This is an exceptional little book that tells about King’s life and culture. It features good discussion about King’s primary philosophical influences, his theological methods, and where he stood on a variety of issues. It has a good chapter on Birmingham, and a very good chapter about King’s concern for youth – we shouldn’t forget the way school integration, court rulings and such influenced the shape of the Jim Crow era, and, then, conversely, how the heroic service of children in the campaigns in Selma, galvanized a nation as they saw children abused by white police and their dogs and fire hoses. There is oddly nothing in this book about the March on Washington, although it is otherwise very thorough, and a quick way to get up to speed on this influential, often-misunderstood Christian leader.
March: Book One John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions) $14.95 I assume you know the important name John Lewis, a black leader, now a Congressman representing his district in George, who met King as a young man, helped organize the famous Nashville Student Movement, the lunch-counter sit ins and, of course,the March on Washington and more. Lewis’s well-received auto-biography (telling of his journey from a share-croppers farm in a very poor part of Alabama, through Jim Crow and into the highest levels of the national civil rights movement, and finally into the US Congress) is called Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Civil Rights Movement, and he has more recently published Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change. March Book One is the first of a trilogy to be released in graphic novel form. The illustrator, Nate Powell, has won numerous awards and has done other socially-conscious graphic books. By the way, the story of Montgomery Bus Boycott — which Rosa Parks famously helped start and which King helped lead — was told in comic book form, and that comic book was used to inspire many in the late 50s (including one John Lewis!) So having this high-quality contemporary comic book style used again is nothing short of brilliant. Excellent, and a great gift for anyone who enjoys this genre.
Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story and Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community (Beacon Press) $14.00 each Here, in recently released, newly type-set and finely edited versions are two essential King books — his very first, and his very last. I have long told people that Stride… remains one of the most moving and influential reading experiences of my life. I can count on one hand the books that were so important to me. And if you are concerned about the warning given above, about the common “co-opting” of King, watering down his radical message to sweet sentiments, you simple must read Where Do We Go… (1967) which was his prophetic call for economic justice, quality education, cast with eloquent zeal and Biblical hope for social healing. If you admire King, if you are curious about King, if you want great books to own and share, these two should be in your personal library. Kudos to Beacon for bringing these out in these handsome paperback editions and for their others books in “The King Legacy” series.
I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by James M. Washington with a foreword by Coretta Scott king (HarperOne) $14.95 There are several compilations of King’s speeches out there and we recommend this because it covers all the major speeches, some good examples of lesser known ones, and is a fine size and a good price. From the famed keynote address at the March on Washington and “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” and the “Eulogy for the Martyred Children (1963) to the essay “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”, the Nobel Prize acceptance speech, his piece about “Black Power” and sermons such as “The Drum Major Instinct”and Our God Is Marching On!” to his last sermon, “I See the Promised Land” preached the day before his murder, his collection is a thrilling, passionate, eloquent and timely anthology of speeches that we should continue to hear, continue to take to heart. A thicker, bigger volume, which includes chapters from his books, interviews, writings and sermons and is much more comprehensive is Testament of Hope: The Essential Writes and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr (HarperOne; $24.99.) It is also expertly edited by James Washington; considering it is over 725 pages, is a great value and a very useful resource.
Let My People Go with Martin Luther King, Jr. Charles Ringma (NavPress)$9.99 Heads up, people: read anything Charles Ringma writes. He is a Dutch-born Australian citizen, trained at the Reformed Theological College in British Columbia (and has long and lovely connections with Regent College in Vancouver, BC.) Ringma is a known for a whole-life sort of discipleship, culturally-engaged and thoughtful, but knows to equip us for our daily discipleship by helping us experience God’s presence by practicing spiritual disciplines. We might say that he is a contemplative activist; he is known for writing devotionals that bring together a deep, mystical encounter with God and a wide, mature ministry in the world. Here, as with others in this little series of pocket-sized devotionals (there is one drawing on the writings of Bonhoeffer, one on Ellul, one on Nouwen, and one on Mother Teresa.) Ringma
provides a great quote or short paragraph from King, a little meditation on it, and an invitation to prayerfully reflect upon it. In 120 daily reflections we can ponder King’s words and dare to live the dream. Ringma is a lovely, wise guide, solid and helpful.
I Have a Dream Martin Luther King, illustrations by Kadir Nelson (Harper) $18.99 It is hard to express just how very moving this wonderful all-ages children’s book is, but the evocative illustration, and the way they capture the lines of the speech, is just wonderful. It has won any number of prestigious awards last year, and we are happy to remind you of it here. By the way, a high quality CD is enclosed of the entire speech, and it is written out in the back of this fine, large-sized book. Wonderful. Why not get one and donate it to your church or public library? We are fans of his other good and beautifully illustrated books as well — including a wonderful one on US history and African Americans, a very cool one on the Negro Baseball Leagues, a stunning one (Moses) on Hariett Tubman, and another on Dr. King.
Martin’s Big Words Doreen Rappaport, illustrations by Bryan Collier (Hyperion; $17.99 hardback, $7.99 paperback) I hope you know this popular, over-sized big book, now out in paperback. It has just excellent, somewhat modern artwork, and classy, modern typography, and very well deserving of its Caldecott Honor Award. It reminds children that they, too, can embrace these big ideas. There is a nice resource page, too, offering other great books and websites.
This is an artful and wonderful all-ages children’s book, with big type, big pictures, and very big ideas.
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