The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Junior
History refers to the study of past events as they appear chronologically. It is important to study history as it provides people with awareness regarding particular events that are significant in the history of a nation. There are various ways that we can learn about history, and some of them include having a direct account of the events through experience and also through learning it from recorded sources such as books in textual form or through audial, visual tapes. Since most of the events in history were not recorded on visual tapes, direct accounts from the people who witnessed the event can be used to learn how life was like during their times. One of such direct accounts is the autobiographies, which refers to life accounts of a person which are written by the same person. For this assignment, I am going to research the autobiography of Martin Luther King Junior, who can be regarded as one of the national heroes in America as he was pivotal in advocating against racism and stereotyping in the United States.
The autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t written in a conventional manner since it was not compiled by King himself. The autobiography is an assembly of King’s work that includes speeches and writings, a work that was performed by Clayborne Carson, a Stanford University historian in 1998. However, despite being assembled by someone else, the original work still remains to give an accurate depiction of history as it appeared since the birth all through the life history of Martin Luther King Junior (King and Carson, n.p). From the introduction, Carson explains the editorial choices that he had to make in order to make the large volumes of documents to a more coherent narrative that could be easily read by people. It is after Carson’s introduction that the rest of King’s information begins to flow.
The autobiography begins with King’s introduction to his early life. King states that he was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929 (King and Carson, n.p). He recounts that most of part of his childhood was happy as well as that of his adolescence. As a young boy, he was brought up by his parents in a black neighborhood. King’s parents were religious, and in line with the societal expectations, King was also brought up in a religious manner. He grew up in church, learning the ways of God. Despite being a staunch believer, he began to question the Bible at an early age as a teenager. He couldn’t comprehend how the Bible made it a mandate for all Christians to love their enemies or those who did them wrong, yet there were other people in the same society who never felt the need to love.
Therefore King found it difficult to love the hateful white racists since they did offend him often. It is as a result of these biblical teachings and the encounters with the white racists that King developed and built his urge to fight for equality of all people regardless of race. He, therefore, dedicated his life to fighting against such vices as racism and segregation in society. King dug deep to explore philosophy and theology, where he further saw the need to fight for the equality and freedom for all, perceiving it as his Christian duty and to which he was deemed to pursue. He attended many seminars, and through this, he continued to reinforce the belief of freedom and equality for all, becoming particularly inspired by the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi whose method of fighting for equality was non-violent yet effective Hodder, p 15). Mahatma Gandhi’s methods, therefore, became an inspiration to King and greatly influenced his political course throughout his life as both a politician and civil rights activist.
King attended Boston University in 1951, and until this time, he had not forsaken his course of fighting against racism (Hewitt, n.p). At Boston, he continued to examine the interaction of religion and philosophy, using the two to question the ways in which he could achieve social justice through love and faith since most of the United States citizens were Christians and knew what the word was teaching. King eventually obtained his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology in 1955, in Boston, and while he was still there, he met his soul mate Coretta Scott, who he later married in 1953. Scott was also a social justice activist, and therefore, the two made a perfect combination, proceeding to have four children after marriage, Martin Luther King III, Dexter King, Yolanda King and Bernice King.
King’s wife was from Alabama, and therefore after completion, they became distanced until King became a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954 (Reddick, n.p). During his service in Alabama, he quickly became a popular figure within the religious community. As a result, he began engaging in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1944, with the aim of helping them achieve social justice. King was among the first people to hear the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1st 1955, for refusing to surrender her bus seat to a white person. King became annoyed and swore to take action. He used his popularity to organize a boycott of the bus services, an action that grew up rapidly with thousands of black people boycotting the bus services for a period of 1 year since December 5th, 1955 to December 20th, 1956. As a result of this, King’s popularity increased, becoming well-known in the region.
King’s popularity grew so fast, and since he was now perceived as a politician, threats to his safety began to increase. King was served with several death threats, arrested by the white police who were known for their racist attitudes towards the colored, beaten, and even had his house bombed in January 30th, 1956. However, despite all the tribulations, King vowed to maintain his stance of using non-violent resistance in fighting for equality, and he was able to convince his people to adopt the same course, even after there was increased anger and calls for retaliation. The non-violent activism continued, and as a result, the mass incarceration of black people was witnessed with King as their leader finding himself in the same situation. Despite having so much opposition, the non-violent activism paid off as in 1956; the buses were desegregated; this was not only success to King but also a motivation to advance his course for equality of all races. King even traveled to Africa and India in 1959, to witness the legacy set by his mentor Mahatma Gandhi.
Back in the United States, King was being cornered by the white supremacists through arrests and threats of long imprisonment and bombings. However, King did not abandon his dream, and instead of giving up, he continued to build his movement both in numbers and strength, and this was evident in the 1963 protests. During the 1963 protest, King was to deliver the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and it is in this time that he became legendary, with almost a quarter of a million individuals attending the protest (Wittenstein, n.p). Among the people who participated in the protest in solidarity with King’s course include many allies from the white churches and unions.
Even at this time, the violent intimidation by the white supremacists was ongoing in other regions where numerous racist acts were performed. Most of the atrocities included the murder of colored children as well as the frequent beatings that were overseen by the police (Wood, n.p). However, this did not stop King from agitating for freedom, and the breakthrough came in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed with King, also winning the Nobel Prize (King Jr., p 225). The two events became a marker of significant progress for the civil rights movement. However, this was not the end of the struggle as more was coming, and the police brutality to the people of color continued to rise.
As a result of the increased brutality, divisions between the colored become visible with continued disagreements as to which was the most effective method to which victory could be achieved. Malcom X advocated for violence, and many people as well perceived it as the right way to achieve the more desired victory (Sales and William, n.p). However, King maintained his commitment to non-violent means perceiving a violent retaliation as unnecessary. King and Malcom X only met once and disagreed significantly with each other’s tactics and political philosophies. However, when Malcom X was assassinated on 21st February 1965, Jing felt that it was a great tragedy and wrongdoing. Despite the continued divisions, along with the police brutality to the people of color, the civil rights movement was able to fight for the Voting Rights Act, which was passed in 1965 and to which secured the racial minority voting rights.
After racial minority voting rights were granted, King spent his time working in poverty-stricken regions such as Chicago and Los Angeles as a gesture to respond to the economic racism as well as the segregation in public schools (Jackson, n.p). King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The autobiography comes to an end with several writings and speeches to which King used as a dedication to fighting social injustices in American society. Based on his autobiography, there are various things that can be learned regarding American history, and some of them is that people had to struggle for freedom to be granted. The cost of freedom in America, especially for the people of color, was to lose the very leaders who advocated for the freedom and rights of the people of color. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great leader, selfless, and dedicated to his course.
Hewitt, Christopher. Catching Terrorists in America: From Martin Luther King Jr.’s Murder to the Boston Marathon Bombing. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019.
Hodder, Jake. “Casting a black Gandhi: Martin Luther King Jr., American pacifists and the global dynamics of race.” Journal of American Studies (2019): 1-27.
Jackson, Thomas F. From civil rights to human rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the struggle for economic justice. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.
King Jr, Martin Luther. “Nobel Prize acceptance speech.” A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr (1964): 224-226.
King, Martin Luther Jr. and Carson, Clayborne. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Intellectual Properties Management in Association with Warner Brooks, New York. 1998.
Reddick, Lawrence Dunbar. Crusader Without Violence: A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. NewSouth Books, 2018.
Sales Jr, William W., and William W. Sales. From civil rights to Black liberation: Malcolm X and the organization of Afro-American unity. South End Press, 1994.
Wittenstein, Barry. A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation. Holiday House, 2019.
Wood, Amy Louise. Lynching and spectacle: Witnessing racial violence in America, 1890-1940. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2011.