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The Radical King

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A revealing collection that restores Dr. King as being every bit as radical as Malcolm X

“The radical King was a democratic socialist who sided with poor and working people in the class struggle taking place in capitalist societies. . . . The response of the radical King to our catastrophic moment can be put in one word: revolution—a revolution in our priorities, a reevaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life, and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens. . . . Could it be that we know so little of the radical King because such courage defies our market-driven world?” —Cornel West, from the Introduction

Every year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is celebrated as one of the greatest orators in US history, an ambassador for nonviolence who became perhaps the most recognizable leader of the civil rights movement. But after more than forty years, few people appreciate how truly radical he was.

Arranged thematically in four parts, The Radical King includes twenty-three selections, curated and introduced by Dr. Cornel West, that illustrate King’s revolutionary vision, underscoring his identification with the poor, his unapologetic opposition to the Vietnam War, and his crusade against global imperialism. As West writes, “Although much of America did not know the radical King—and too few know today—the FBI and US government did. They called him ‘the most dangerous man in America.’ . . . This book unearths a radical King that we can no longer sanitize.”

278 pages, Hardcover

First published January 13, 2015

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About the author

Martin Luther King Jr.

241 books2,953 followers
Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the pivotal leaders of the American civil rights movement. King was a Baptist minister, one of the few leadership roles available to black men at the time. He became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955–1956) and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957), serving as its first president. His efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Here he raised public consciousness of the civil rights movement and established himself as one of the greatest orators in U.S. history. In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means.

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a national holiday in the United States in 1986. In 2004, King was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 218 reviews
Profile Image for Kevin.
270 reviews656 followers
March 19, 2023
What is a “radical”?

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.
When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

-Hélder Câmara. I cannot think of a better quote to distinguish the radical.
--A radical rejects convenient excuses for status quo power structures (unlike The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined) by uprooting the structural beneath surface distractions and proposing alternatives.

The Good:
--MLK is popularized for advocating active nonviolence (see debate in How to Blow Up a Pipeline) during the Civil Rights movement. Ignorance and spectatorship (i.e. Western “democracy” with its theatrical elections amidst capitalist authoritarianism at the workplace, built on capitalism's violent global division of labour) is not nonviolence; it is the acceptance of violence.
--MLK's progression towards radicalism culminated in connecting racism with poverty, militarism, and materialism; we can more directly use the terms:
i) “capitalism”: the endless accumulation of private money-power requires dispossession of other social relations, ex. enclosures privatizing the Commons to commodify (buy-sell; “materialism”) land, creating the land market, which the dispossessed have nothing left to sell but their labour (labour market). Historically, capitalism has been the culprit of mass social dislocation (The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time) and mass poverty (Capital and Imperialism: Theory, History, and the Present; conveniently pushed to Global South slums). MLK was assassinated during the “Poor People's Campaign”.
ii) “imperialism”: capitalism's violence holding together the global division of labour/resources. MLK protested against the most visible manifestation, the US's genocidal war on Vietnam.
...The FBI correctly marked MLK as a radical threat:
“I am trying to get at the roots of it to see just what ought to be done.” [...]
“Are we integrating into a burning house?” [...]
It is no accident that just prior to King’s death, 72 percent of whites and 55 percent of blacks disapproved of his opposition to the Vietnam War and his efforts to eradicate poverty in America. When much of the black leadership attacked or shunned him, King replied, “What you’re saying may get you a foundation grant but it won’t get you into the kingdom of truth.”

--While MLK’s analysis of capitalism, Liberalism, Marxism, Socialism, and Communism evolves throughout his lifetime, a pillar of his methodology is radical love. With a basis in his religious background and subsequent inspiration in Gandhian nonviolence (another topic to critically unpack: The Doctor and the Saint: The Ambedkar - Gandhi Debate), the principles of radical love are surprisingly challenging. To attack evil but not attack the individual (let us add the recognition of many levels of contradictions in the messy real world), to win the understanding of the opposition and transform their moral disposition to build community, these can seem utopic when confronted with real world violence. The cycle of violence can seem so inevitable it leaves one to wonder how we ever find empathy, peace, truth, justice and reconciliation.

The Missing:
-- I'd like to see more synthesis between:
i) editor Cornel West's works: ex.Race Matters
ii) pioneering sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois. who also started as a liberal reformist and became radicalized as a communist/anti-imperialist internationalist)
iii) today's radical historian Gerald Horne, as well as case studies from progressive liberals (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America) to more radical economics/histories (The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Empire of Cotton: A Global History). Also, RIP bell hooks: Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism.
--MLK's roots were organizing at home, but his protest of the US war on Vietnam reveals the direction and recognition of capitalism's global and imperialist nature, something recognized by Malcolm X (Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention) and especially the Black Panther Party (Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party). We must expand this synthesis to the struggles of decolonization, especially the hidden economic structures (unequal “free trade” imperialism, deindustrialization, colonial taxes, foreign currencies/debt traps, intellectual property monopolies, imperialist finance of free capital movement while labour is restricted by militarized borders, etc.):
-Vijay Prashad on imperialism's ideological censorship and exportation of violence: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLS...
-overview: The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions
-Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism
-economic intro: The Agrarian Question in the Neoliberal Era: Primitive Accumulation and the Peasantry
-economic dive: Capital and Imperialism: Theory, History, and the Present
-history intro: Washington Bullets: A History of the CIA, Coups, and Assassinations
-history dives: The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World
-The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South
-Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World
Profile Image for Kusaimamekirai.
647 reviews215 followers
December 24, 2017
I am a teacher in a middle school in Japan.
Every year around this time, the 3rd year students come to a part of their textbook dealing with Martin Luther King and civil rights. It mentions Rosa Parks, the March on Washington, and "I have a dream".
These are all really important things in American history(if not too brief in only 3 pages to form any kind of context for Japanese students).
For Americans as well, this is the King we grow up learning about.
This is the King who Republicans, Democrats, white and black all love and publicly at least, revere.
The King who was about love, equality, and color blindness.
Dr. King was without a doubt a man of love who sought equality, however this simplistic interpretation of him overlooks that prior to his murder, he was one of the most hated men in America.
This is mainly because the Dr. King few of us know about preached passionately against the moral injustice of war when people in America went hungry.
He preached about the economic injustice suffered by black and white at the hands of an economic system that didn't give a damn about them yet were happy to engage in far-flung wars.
This is the Martin Luther King we read in these speeches. While I knew about this part of his life, I wasn't fully prepared for how powerfully he writes against racial AND economic injustice.
It is the Martin Luther I will remember in January while people are talking about his "dream".
Profile Image for Scriptor Ignotus.
488 reviews169 followers
January 6, 2019
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of those peculiar icons in the constellation of American saints who is underappreciated by virtue of being universally revered. On the third Monday of each year King is liturgically praised by social activists, journalists, celebrities, and politicians across the United States, often in suspiciously pointed and self-congratulatory ways. King’s preoccupations are rendered benevolently naïve and his spiritual agonies morally easy. The epitaph of his moral legacy is reduced to a paraphrase of the most famous line from his “I Have a Dream” speech: judge people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

The effect of this reduction is to turn the King legacy into a legitimation of our collective self-understanding as equitable, compassionate, and, above all else, unjudgmental. If we were instead to see King whole, to plumb his depths and journey with him on his intellectual and moral odyssey, to take part in his prophetic despair over the fundamental injustice of the human condition, we would see him more properly as a formidable challenge to even our allegedly most pragmatic social sensibilities.

The speeches, sermons, and essays of this collection showcase the radical Christianity of Dr. King. Here is a King who fought America’s racial caste system with militant agape and weaponized forbearance; who was steeped in Thoreau’s civil disobedience and Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance; who struggled with Nietzsche’s characterization of Christianity as slave morality and Marx’s alluring vision of proletarian revolution and the abolition of class and state; who understood nonviolence not as passivity in the face of violent oppression but rather as a form of asymmetrical warfare, an attack on the unguarded moral disposition of the adversary; who believed in the universality of moral truth and considered Mahatma Gandhi the greatest Christian of the twentieth century; who connected the American civil rights struggle with anticolonial movements around the world, including the independence movements of Algeria and Rhodesia and the campaign against apartheid in South Africa; who saw racial and economic injustice as inextricably linked, and spent the last days of his life on a Poor People’s Campaign for jobs and better wages in those largely non-white segments of American cities where conditions of economic depression persisted even as the “mainstream” economy boomed.

This man wasn’t just good: he was interesting. King deserves to be engaged with, grappled with—perhaps even disagreed with. He should not be relegated to the splendid isolation of the thoughtlessly adored. He cannot be packed away in a gilded box. King must be a living tradition: a persistent, edifying challenge to the pretensions of American life.
Profile Image for Fred P.
254 reviews3 followers
March 12, 2015
When I picked this book up, I thought it would be a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr, told by Cornel West. But West barely speaks. He lets the words of Dr. King tell the story.

That story is about a man who moved from a position of fear to sense of fearlessness by finding courage in his spirituality. West selects speeches, letters and writing that show Dr. King's devotion to radical love.

King describes himself as "radical" about love and "militant" about non-violence. His devotion to the cause of ending segregation through non-violent boycotts and protest marches led him to reject constant threats to his own life, and to speak out loudly for the dignity of African-Americans and people of color.

The words and concepts that Dr. King introduces sound current and immediate. You get a sense that the way we view our society today was shaped by his words and ideas. It is obvious from Dr. King's writing that he was a voracious reader of religion, philosophy and politics. He was heavily influenced by Ghandi's successful non-violent action against the caste system, and South Africa's struggle against apartheid, as well as by African-American civil rights activists like W.E.B. DuBois.

You also get a sense of Dr. King's loneliness. As he was called to lead marches across the country, he spent a lot of time away from his family. He spoke about the lack of support from other ministers, and from Southern politicians. What sound like eminently sensible proposals today, received ridicule, scorn and ignorance when Dr. King made his demands. King knew he had thousands of people backing him, but sometimes he felt alone on the mountaintop.

The passion and intellect displayed in the words of Dr. King should be essential reading for every young person. Dr. King sets an example for courage in the cause of social justice. This book is inspiring and enlightening. It's a very good read!
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,659 followers
May 1, 2018
This is an excellent collection of King's own words and some short commentary by West. One of the tragedies of King's legacy is that his words against war and inequality and his strong stance against systemic racism have been whitewashed. Having read most of King's books and speeches, I was a little disappointed that this collection did not include some of his more philosophical and personal accounts and stuck with some of his most famous sermons. But it was still an excellent and essential read. And depressingly, since we are still struggling with race, he could have spoken all these words today and they would be just as true.
Profile Image for robin friedman.
1,779 reviews211 followers
February 16, 2023
The Radical And The Dreamer

April 4, 2018, marked the 50th year commemoration of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was an appropriate occasion to think about King and his importance. Among other ways, King's life was remembered through a revitalization of the Poor People's March in which he had been engaged before his death and by several books, including a book of essays on King's political philosophy "To Shape a New World" edited by Harvard professors Tommie Shelby and Brandon Terry and "Redemption: Martin Luther King Jr's Last 31 Hours" by Joseph Rosenbloom.

Edited and introduced by scholar Cornel West, this book, "The Radical King" (2016) will help readers broaden their perspective on Martin Luther King. With the establishment of the Federal holiday in celebration of King and the monuments and other tributes to his memory, the scope of King's vision and program has become curtailed and sanitized. King is celebrated for his "I Have A Dream Speech" on the National Mall and for his teachings of love, peace, and brotherhood. The portion of King's vision which came to the fore after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 tends to be underplayed. Beginning in 1967, King spoke strongly against the Vietnam War. He took his method of nonviolent protest north and broadened it to include poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and materialism which worked against America's and the world's poor of all races. At the time of his assassination, King was participating in a strike of sanitation workers in Memphis. His politics became increasingly critical of capitalism and tended towards democratic socialism.

King's radicalism was well-known during the latter years of his life, as many of his former allies deserted him over his stance on the Vietnam War and over the increasing breadth of his critique of the United States. More people disapproved than approved of King in the years leading to his assassination. Still, with his untimely death and with the passage of time, many people have forgotten this part of King's message. It is valuable to be reminded of it through the writings of King collected in this book.

The book includes West's commentary together with texts from King divided into four parts: "Radical Love", "Prophetic Vision: Global Analysis and Local Praxis", "The Revolution of Nonviolent Resistance: Against Empire and White Supremacy" and "Overcoming the Tyranny of Poverty and Hatred". The texts were written at all stages of King's brief public career, with some as early as 1958. The selections include famous works such as the "Letter from Birmingham Jail". Other selections include the speech King gave in Memphis the evening before his death, titled "I've been to the Mountaintop" and the speech King gave announcing his opposition to the Vietnam War called "Beyond Vietnam, A Time to Break Silence". Some of the contents of the book is less well-known, including moving tributes King gave to W.E.B. Du Bois and to the American socialist leader, Norman Thomas. One of the strongest and most militant essays in the book is "Where Do We Go From Here?", King's final speech as given as president to the Southern Leadership Conference.

The contents of this book do indeed show that King had a radical vision that has become somewhat obscured in the years since his death. It is important and valuable to know King in all his fullness. King's radicalism had lost support during the tumultuous years of the late 1960s, to which King responded and which he helped to create, and today's readers will want to think about the radicalization of King's vision and its relationship to the more romanticized, iconic picture of King.

Professor West is an eloquent advocate for the radical side of King. In his passionate prose, he elides issues and expands King's radicalism to causes King never embraced and probably rejected during his life. Thus, West writes:

"The modes of racist domination -- from barbaric slavery to bestial Jim Crow, Sr., to cruel Jim Crow, Jr., -- are never reducible to individual prejudice or personal bias. Empire, white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, and homophobia are linked in complex ways, and our struggles against them require moral consistency and systemic analyses."

Martin Luther King, Jr. has properly become an iconic figure. His memory deserves to be revered and his work, including his radical writings, deserve to be read. With the passage of time, readers should explore King and think through what is valuable and essential in his achievement and mission. Reading and remembering King and pondering his significance are the most lasting tributes to be paid to King or to any critically important figure.

Robin Friedman
Profile Image for John Kaufmann.
628 reviews54 followers
May 15, 2015
This was a great collection of essays from Martin Luther King Jr. I know there are other such books out there, and they may be just as good. I don't know why I never picked up those books but did this one.

We celebrate MLK's birthday as a national holiday, as we should. I believe Martin Luther King was a truly great man. Most people just think of King as the leader the Civil Rights movement in America. But he was much more than that; people (especially the younger generation who didn't live through his times) should read his words to see that (and watch old clips of his speeches). He was a moral and spiritual conscience - and he was so for the entire nation, not just for blacks. He was inspirational, and called us to our better selves. He was a messenger, nay a servant, for love and compassion. While he advocated for civil rights for blacks in the U.S., his perspective was really much broader; he saw so many issues as interconnected and tied. For example, he connected civil rights in the U.S. to the Vietnam War, to imperialism, to economic and social injustice. He went to the roots of issues, and in this sense was truly "radical" as the title says.

This book should be read slowly; it is not meant to be skimmed or speed-read. Imagine King speaking to you in his melifluous, resonant voice. Let the words, the meaning, and MLK's feeling and depth penetrate your inner depth.
25 reviews
March 17, 2021
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said so many things that people haven't heard because they aren't immediately attached to a specific section of a single speech that refers to just one of his dreams. Non-violent radical action is something we learn early on that he stood for, but this collection proves just how deeply he observed, molded, and believed in the power of non-violence and radical love. Personally, I shivered the way I do when I hear him talk. One quote from a book of endless quotes:

“…When you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait."
Profile Image for Becky.
799 reviews76 followers
April 19, 2019
It's amazing how often I have heard him quoted, but never knew those quotes in context. I'm sorry it took me this long to listen to some of his speeches in their entirety.
I was listening to it on audiobook, and Jasmine popped into my room at one point after having overheard most of one of his speeches, and comment on how alarming it was that so many of his points were still incredibly relevant. I had that thought an awful lot myself. In the Beyond Vietnam speech, everything he was saying could be applied to today. Different war, same problems. Which, honestly, he predicted in that speech. "We need to address these things or here is what will happen," and he was right.
Profile Image for Kenneth.
223 reviews1 follower
January 23, 2019
This book is outstanding. I listened to the audio version which is read by famous African American actors and narrated by Cornel West. Professor West and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, and I read this book because I, like many Americans, often look to King for the elements of his philosophy and methodology that most comport with my own. I thought it was important to look at the elements of Kings philosophy and policy suggestions that are counter to my own, and try to come to grips with the fact that if he existed there would be many points of disagreement between us, which there would have been and are. This is important to do because King challenges all of us, left and right, in the way we think about things and how we view and deal with those who oppose us. West does an excellent job both curating and introducing the more radical elements of Kings philosophy and program and I have to say I gained as much appreciation and insight into his thinking as I did into Kings.

Something really should be said about listening to the audio version and here I think West and Audible have really done something extraordinary. I've read many of these works before and the ones that have been recorded in King's original voice I have listened to in that way. As any American alive today will know, King is an amazing orator and an extremely difficult act to follow. So casting others in his role is no easy task and I think it is well accomplished here. For one things, I think having the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" read, with the emotive inflection given in this work made it come alive in a way that it hasn't for me on the printed page. That was very well done. Levar Burton does strong work as does Danny Glover. I think both Michael K. Williams and Wanda Sykes deserve special mention as well. King was a humorist and Sykes is somehow able to be both funny and indignant in a way that I think actually improves on King as he wasn't really as capable of indignation as she is. Williams is outstanding and West gives him, wisely I think, perhaps the most emotionally resonant pieces: Kings exhortation to black youth, and his funeral oration for a great socialist.

All in all this was truly outstanding, as any work of King's would be, but the curation and the execution are ingenious and flawless. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Casey.
1 review
February 13, 2021
I can't recommend this book enough if all you know of Dr. King is the little bit we learned in school.

His story has been whitewashed to make it palatable for the masses and people often conflate his non-violence with non-radical, but his views were and still are incredibly radical. His views on poverty and militarism were just as radical as his views on racism and his views on love are probably the most radical of all. Unfortunately every bit of it is just as applicable today as it was during his time.

I listened to the Audible audiobook, which is read by a variety of Black actors. That, for me, made Dr. King's words even more impactful than if I were just reading them off the page in my own voice.
Profile Image for Bitchin' Reads.
459 reviews122 followers
January 24, 2021
This is powerful. But struck me as so jarring was the moments I forgot these were sermons, speeches, and writings penned decades ago. And why is that? Because so little has freaking changed. In his letter written in the Birmingham jail he talks of his children asking why they couldn't go certain places and why white people don't like black people. Guess what? My coworkers five-year-old daughter asked those exact freaking things last week. Last week!

The United States has taken a single baby step forward while thinking it has strode miles. We need to fix this.
Profile Image for Leslie.
2,615 reviews203 followers
January 22, 2020
I find it hard to rate this audiobook - the sections by Cornel West were a 3* (or perhaps even a 2.5*) but the sections that came straight from King's own writings were excellent, averaging 4*. Listening to King's words reminded me why he is such a role model to people of all races and ages.

One complaint: Due to the way the book was organized, sometimes there would be repetition (even word for word repetition) in back-to-back entries. This repetition would have been less notable if the writings had been organized differently. Despite that small complaint, I thought the organization was interesting. Below is a list of the contents with the narrator for each specified. West gives introductory comments at the beginning of each section plus before several of the individual entries (and of course again at the end though I suppose those couldn't be called 'introductory'!).

Part 1: Radical Love
1. The Violence of Desperate Men, read by Bahni Turpin
2. Palm Sunday Sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi, read by Kevin R. Free
3. Pilgrimage to Nonviolence, read by Gabourey Sidibe
4. Loving Your Enemies, read by LeVar Burton
5. What is Your Life’s Blueprint?, read by Michael K. Williams

Part 2: Prophetic Visions
6. The World House, read by Colman Domingo
7. All the Great Religions of the World, read by Mike Colter
8. My Jewish Brother, read by Colman Domingo
9. The Middle East Question, read by Leslie Odom, Jr.
10. Let My People Go, read by Bahni Turpin
11. Honoring Dr. Du Bois, read by Danny Glover

Part 3: Nonviolent Resistance
12. Letter From Birmingham Jail, read by Leslie Odom, Jr.
13. Nonviolence and Social Change, read by LeVar Burton
14. My Talk With Ben Bella, read by Colman Domingo
15. Jawaharlal Nehru, A Leader in the Long Anti-Colonial Struggle, read by Kevin R. Free
16. Where Do We Go From Here?, read by Mike Colter
17. Black Power, read by Wanda Sykes
18. Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, read by Robin Miles

Part 4: Poverty and Hatred
19. The Bravest Man I Ever Met, read by Michael K. Williams
20. The Other America, read by Wanda Sykes
21. All Labor Has Dignity, read by Kevin R. Free
22. The Drum Major Instinct, read by Mike Colter
23. I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, read by Bahni Turpin
Profile Image for Alex.
278 reviews5 followers
February 27, 2019
An inspiring audio book that reveals the fiery, bold, and humanistic character of Martin Luther King. This was my first exposure to all of these speeches and writings, and it was impossible not to come away feeling like so many of Dr. King’s words could be applied to today’s social climate. His message of radical love, non-violence, and the pursuit of justice for everybody as pertinent then as it is now.

My admiration for the man grew the more I listened and learned about him and his life. How his reading really was almost exclusively in the liberal arts, with Socrates, Marx, and Nietchze all in his back pocket ready to be used or criticized - whatever was necessary based on King’s belief in community while never neglecting the importance of the individual.

I loved his recounting of the life of Gandhi, and learning about how much of King’s own beliefs and approach were inspired by him. I even loved the passages where he calls upon the life of Jesus to make his point. As someone who is critical of so many so-called Christians, King’s earnestness and passion for the Bible and its core messages were easy to respect and often agree with, especially when complemented by so much rigorous scholarship and understanding of socio-economic theory and a genuine love for people.

This is a powerful book, and I’ll definitely be coming back to it again in the future whenever I feel the need to return to myself and to reaffirm my own belief in love, non-violence, and the importance of standing up to oppression and fighting for what is right even as large groups of people may stand against you.
Profile Image for Jordan Cruz.
88 reviews
September 4, 2020
He is not the watered down activist we were taught about in schools. He was so much more. What an inspiration and absolute gift to have this group of writings from Martin Luther King, Jr. It was thought provoking and illuminating, especially since many of the issues he spoke of are issues we see today.
Profile Image for Gwen Lester-Cunningham.
Author 1 book1 follower
July 28, 2018
As an avid student of the life of Dr. King, I found this book quite unsatisfactory. Unfortunately, as many highly educated writers tend to do, this author seemed to be more enthralled with displaying his intelligence than imparting information on his subject. I had to wade through tons of high toned gobbledy-gook in order to mine one nugget of information.
Profile Image for Joseph Stieb.
Author 1 book127 followers
October 3, 2020
An inspiring and well-selected set of speeches and essays by King that does a pretty good job exploring his radicalism. Cornell West, the editor, does a mediocre job defining what exactly made MLK a radical, or in what sense he was one. That's what I want to explore in this review.

MLK was certainly a social democrat, although he didn't define himself in those terms. He was equally critical of unrestrained capitalism and communism, and he called for reorienting society around people rather than things. Some of his critiques of the market economy and of industrial society were a bit shallow; I think he overlooked the revolution in human standards of living that had taken place in the previous half century or so. Still, his priority was always the poor and dispossessed of society, and he clearly had a radical commitment to reorient society around their needs and sufferings.

The strongest sense in which King was a radical was his commitment to living out the example and teachings of his faith. In a way, King has made the most convincing argument for CHristianity I've ever heard because he truly lived that creed. King's Jesus was a revolutionary for the downtrodden, someone who sought to reorient human values around peace, selflessness, service, forgiveness, charity, and love for all people. There are certain things that King and his followers did that I don't think could be done without faith, that as I think Harry Belafonte pointed out aren't things a "rational" person would do: allow yourself to be beaten and abused, go to jail over and over again, refuse to hit back no matter what. And yet, these things seized the moral conscience of the nation (well, most of it) and turned the tide in the Civil Rights struggle. The fact that most Christians do not live anything like this makes me feel sometimes that it is almost an unreasonable standard, that other social justice movements in a sense cannot repeat what the Civil Rights movement did because of the radicalism of this type of self-sacrifice, this willingness to suffer. King sometimes appears to me as an almost saint-like figure (I know he wasn't, of course) who came to us with a vision and selflessness that is so heroic as to be almost otherworldly. This, I think, was the most radical thing about King.

One interesting aspect of King that doesn't fit with most definitions of radicalism is that he is a deeply canonical thinker in the sense that he read deeply in and drew from both the Western canon of thought as well as other cultures. He was a master of taking the good and leaving the bad from this canon, especially regarding the founders, whom he believed created the "wells of democracy" from which later generations would draw strength and principles. He read critically and honestly figures like Nietzsche, Marx, Niebuhr, and Rauschenbusch. With the first two, he appreciated that they were tackling important questions and issues even though he disagreed with them. With Marx, for instance, he rejected his materialism and downplaying of the individual but appreciated Marx's diagnosis of the problems of capitalism and the inequality of industrial society. With Niebuhr, he took the principle that individuals are usually more ethical than groups, which tend to be more tribal and close-minded; this became a powerful interpretive tool for racism. King clearly saw himself as part of a line of thought tracing back to ancient Greece and Rome (and obviously the Holy Land), which West doesn't emphasize because it doesn't fit his definition of radical.

I probably wouldn't assign this entire book to a class or something, as at points the speeches start to overlap a bit. Still, it gave me a much broader sense of his thought and critiques of society and world politics. King's radicalism is a thing for sure, but I think it was more of a moral radicalism than a political one. For all his sympathy with post-colonialism, his critiques of capitalism and racism, I think King was still more of a reformer than a revolutionary at home than abroad, especially when you consider how post-colonialism devolved into tyranny in so many cases. He would not have been one of the legions who made excuses for this degradation of a good cause.
Profile Image for Hasan.
56 reviews4 followers
July 25, 2017
Great collection of essays, ideas and works from the great Martin Luther King which showed hoe he was truly radical in many ways yet a firm believer in playing within the system rather than outside.

The selected writings shows how MLK was radical and even though someone who believed in working within the system by preaching nonviolence was an advocate of the belief of living in a just society of decency and dignity. King throughout his writings shows how the USA in 1960's was suffering from racism, poverty, militarism and materialism. He defined how militarism was an imperial catastrophe, racism a moral catastrophe, poverty an economic catastrophe and materialism a catastrophe of greed.

King showed in his works one could love a country and be a lover of truth and not be disloyal. The real King based on the book is portrayed as a different man, indeed. He started to focus on economic inequality as he realised that racism could end, yet inequality was the obstruction towards full emancipation. Cornel's selected essays of Luther King made me think what would have happened if King hadn’t been assassinated?

A good read for the person who wants to understand the concepts of what MLK believed in and how he deep down was a radical.
Profile Image for Barry.
837 reviews31 followers
February 21, 2019
Radical King, radical Christian. This man lived the life of radical love modeled by Jesus. It’s this love that was radical, not his politics. His politics seem to be merely reasonable. He understood that achieving justice is more important than rigid adherence to a political or economic ideology. I think Burke would agree.

Here’s a quote from one of his speeches:
“Now we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best, power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

This quote reminds me of Andy Crouch’s book, “Strong and Weak,” which is excellent unpacking of this idea. Another 5-star read btw
Profile Image for Jennifer.
492 reviews
January 29, 2021
We focused on Dr King for a part of my college contemporary issues class and I remember being blown away by how he spoke and wrote. By his vision of peace and equality. I expected, from the way this book was summarized, that I had somehow missed out on some of his beliefs that would make him "radical"... But unless you know nothing about him other than the quotes people post every January on social media (several taken out of context), I don't think there is much in his speeches that is surprising. He was somewhat of a socialist. He was antiwar. He believed in nonviolent protests.
This is a great read because it's just his speeches, and they are so powerful, the way his mind worked makes me so sad (so angry) that his life was cut short.
Profile Image for Conor Hilton.
240 reviews14 followers
August 5, 2020
Stunning. I'd read a couple of these before in a very different context, but many of these essays/speeches/sermons/book chapters were new to me and utterly transformed my understanding of MLK. For awhile now I've been aware of the ways in which I had misunderstood and been mislead by history classes about what sort of figure King was, but this was the first time that I really dug into King's own words to see the extent of his radical politics.

Reading this I was horrified and inspired and provoked and challenged and called to action. I will be revisiting these pieces repeatedly for insight and encouragement and motivation and challenge. I loved particularly King's ethic of nonviolence, loving our enemies, and his persistent critique of the Vietnam War, and how all of those are woven together in the vision of racial justice he lays out.
688 reviews13 followers
April 13, 2018
A thought-provoking listen made enjoyable by the many famous actors who read key Martin Luther King Jr speeches, articles and letters, which show King in a more radical light. Here, you will find King's finest work "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and "Black Power" in which he discusses his feelings about using this as a slogan when Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) introduced it. Cornel West provides an introduction for each piece of King's writing providing an understanding of King's views in a radical context.
Profile Image for Stephen.
143 reviews
April 13, 2018
I knew about King's "radical" ideas about poverty and injustice, but it was eye opening to me how much of a role his faith really played into his life and mission. It's kind of crazy that it hadn't occurred to me, given that he was a minister, but I was fascinated to listen to these speeches and writings that detailed how deeply his faith in Christ suffused his actions. He felt compelled to love radically like Christ, and that was at the heart of everything he did.

I'm so glad I read this audio book, and look forward to listening to it again soon!
264 reviews25 followers
March 24, 2020
A must-read! Cornel West appropriately selected letters, articles, book excerpts, and speeches from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the intention of allowing his own words to reclaim his original intent. King today is too often viewed through a white-washed lens, appropriating his message to assuage white guilt and missing his often-radical message. I also highly recommend the audio version. Prominent African American actors, comedians and authors take turn narrating. Instead of distraction, this provides depth and nuance. There’s a little bit of King in all of us. Let’s use that and keep working.
Profile Image for Dalton Erickson.
40 reviews1 follower
February 3, 2020
A collection of speeches and essay's from MLK Jr. that still sends ripples to today. I loved it, but I may be bias for I love MLK. Regardless, I recommend to those who have not gotten to hear the words and ideas of this great American.
Profile Image for Johan Agstam.
21 reviews7 followers
February 23, 2022
Finally got around to reading this. It was a very enlightening read. This is not a biography or commentary but simply a collection of MLK's writing curated and introduced by Cornel West. It really gave me a more profound insight into his politics (which was more complex than most discussions tend to show, even me who knew about that didn't know the full extent) but also pacifism in general. I'm not against violence to resist oppression, non-violence does not always work, but I will admit to having a more limited understanding of non-violence which has been expanded by this book.
Profile Image for Rob Bauer.
Author 13 books30 followers
February 3, 2018
This is an outstanding collection of King's writings and speeches, and it does exactly what Dr. West promises: it reveals Martin Luther King, Jr., as one of the true radical figures of 20th century America. His dedication to the Civil Rights Movement requires little description here, but what West's collection of speeches demonstrates is that King was equally committed to economic justice and opposing the Vietnam War.

Giving King the label of Democratic Socialist seems a fair one; after all, King sometimes described himself as one. In chapters such as "All Labor Has Dignity" King lays out his views, consistently returning to the point that in a nation as celebrated for its wealth as the United States, it was a tragedy to have so many poor people, so many lacking proper medical care, or housing, or other necessities of life.

In another effort to bring attention to the issue of poverty, King organized a Poor People’s Campaign to take place in 1968 and attempted to reach out to some of the economically marginalized people in our country, not only African Americans but also Native Americans, migrant farm workers, and whites living in Appalachia. He described the situation in a speech titled “The Other America” that he gave to Union Local 1199 in New York City in March of 1968:
"By the millions, people in the other America find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. . . . The fact is that the black man in the United States of America is facing a literal depression. Now you know they don’t call it that. When there is massive unemployment in the black community, it’s called a social problem. But when there is massive unemployment in the white community, it’s called a depression. With the black man, it’s ‘welfare,’ with the whites it’s ‘subsidies.’

What King referred to in this last line is another fact of United States history that most of us have conveniently forgotten. Throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century, white Americans benefited significantly from government programs that helped lift them into the middle class, most prominently Social Security and the GI Bill. Both measures discriminated against blacks at first. Social Security initially denied benefits to workers in the two professions in which most blacks worked at the time, these being agricultural labor (for black men) and domestic service jobs (for black women). The GI Bill discriminated against African Americans because its authors designed it to do so. By writing the bill in such a way that implementation took place at the state and local level, when the state and local officials charged with implementing the bill were themselves racists and segregationists, the result was that African Americans received only a fraction of the benefits their white veteran counterparts did. King’s final line also refers to the fact that white farmers received (and still receive) government handouts in the form of subsidies not to overproduce certain crops, but without the associated stigmas of laziness and being dependent on government.

It is also instructive to remember what King was doing at the time of his assassination on April 4, 1968. He was in Memphis, Tennessee, not for any civil rights initiative, but to support a strike of sanitation workers asking for a living wage. On March 18, King addressed them in a speech titled “All Labor Has Dignity.” He pointed out the many victories achieved by the civil rights movement. However, he also said, “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?” King also retold the familiar biblical parable of Lazarus, a poor beggar, and Dives, the rich man who ignored Lazarus and consequently went to Hell. He reminded the audience, “Dives didn’t go to hell because he was rich. His wealth was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. Dives went to hell because he passed by Lazarus every day, but he never really saw him. Dives went to hell because he allowed Lazarus to become invisible. Dives went to hell because he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived.” King then went further: “This may well be the indictment on America.”

Likewise when it came his criticism of the Vietnam War. In fact, he linked the war and poverty, recognizing that killing Vietnamese overseas precluded efforts to realistically address poverty in the US. In a speech given at New York’s Riverside Church in April of 1967, King said, “I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demoniacal destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”

Furthermore, he added that his convictions about the war came

out of my experiences in the ghettos of the North over the last three years—especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But they asked—and rightly so—what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted.

Elaborating on the reasons for his moral dissonance regarding Vietnam, King described the results for the Vietnamese people that the United States claimed it was saving from communism. In a nation in which the landlord class had long relegated the general population to a state of feudalism,

the only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept and without popular support. . . . They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. . . . What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform?

King also made clear that American soldiers, most of whom were themselves from lower class or working class backgrounds, suffered from the war:

I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create a hell for the poor.

Clearly, the issues of war abroad and poverty at home intertwined in King’s thinking, even if America has forgotten the fact. He realized that this hurt all Americans. This attitude stemmed not just from current events, but also from King’s understanding of the biblical conception of justice. In biblical times, the concept of justice did not refer to the equal application of the law, as we understand the word to mean today. Instead, justice meant meeting the needs of everyone in the community. King’s writings and speeches clearly indicate his desire to seek justice in both its ancient and modern forms.

This is the Martin Luther King we have forgotten. In reducing his life’s work to the “I Have a Dream” speech, nonviolent protest, and the idea of voting rights and human equality, we have lost what made him one of the true radical thinkers of twentieth century America. King’s fight on behalf of these things, amazing and inspirational as it was, is only part of his social philosophy of radical Christian love. Obfuscating the rest of his life’s work diminishes his true contribution to our nation. Society proved willing to accommodate African Americans voting and having full access to public places, despite the kicking and screaming of segregationists. This is, I suspect, because making this a reality required no material sacrifice on the part of most Americans. Recognizing the full extent of King’s vision, however, would require a major reshuffling of the deck of our nation’s priorities. It would require most Americans to make some kind of sacrifice, taking them outside their current economic and philosophical comfort zones. I believe this is why, collectively, we have forgotten the real Martin Luther King, Jr., and have simplified him to meet our tastes of the moment.

King knew just how radical he was. At one point, he asked his close friend Harry Belafonte, “Are we integrating into a burning house?” because of the persistence of “racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism.” He also added, “I have found out that all that I have been doing in trying to correct this system in America has been in vain. I am trying to get at the roots of it to see just what ought to be done. The whole thing will have to be done away with.” As he said in another part of his 1967 speech at Riverside Church,

As I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart . . . many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining in the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the sources of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling.

Despite decades of our nation’s leaders pretending to care about poverty, the problem is no nearer a solution than ever. Racism is alive and well, even if it's usually more subtly disguised than the open hatred so in evidence in Dr. King’s time. Militarism flourishes, as more than a decade of continuous war, combined with outspending any other nation in the world many times over on military materials, clearly testify. Materialism is more difficult to quantify, surely, although it is hard to imagine anyone arguing that the United States has become less materialistic in the past five decades. One of King’s close friends, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, once said, “The whole future of America will depend upon the impact and influence of Dr. King.” The question is, which Dr. King?

(Parts of this review were previously published in the journal As It Happens, published by Flathead Valley Community College, Spring 2016.)
Profile Image for Emma.
271 reviews
August 5, 2020
Fabulous. 100% still applicable today. Great to read.
Profile Image for Mark Marquez.
33 reviews36 followers
January 26, 2021
Shockingly relevant today. Stirring speeches and powerful dialogue.

He ends it with prophetic visions and hope for the future, it's been awhile since I had something like that bring tears to my eyes. He has a way with words and his ability to articulate his thoughts and ideals on social justice matters is what makes this such a unique read. I'm honored to have even read it. I started this on MLK day just for kicks and it has shaken my foundation. A must read.
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