Today marks the 36th annual observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. First observed in 1986, Martin Luther King Jr. Day serves as a celebration of the life of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Well known for his nonviolent approach (that actually changed in his later speeches), King is seen worldwide as a beacon of equality and justice. Below we’ve prepared a brief reading list touching on how today’s observance was established and some key moments in King’s journey to equality for all.
BY DANIEL T. FLEMING
Living the Dream tells the history behind the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the battle over King’s legacy that continued through the decades that followed. Creating the first national holiday to honor an African American was a formidable achievement and an act of resistance against conservative and segregationist opposition.
Congressional efforts to commemorate King began shortly after his assassination. The ensuing political battles slowed the progress of granting him a namesake holiday and crucially defined how his legacy would be received. Though Coretta Scott King’s mission to honor her husband’s commitment to nonviolence was upheld, conservative politicians sought to use the holiday to advance a whitewashed, nationalistic, and even reactionary vision of King’s life and thought. This book reveals the lengths that activists had to go to elevate an African American man to the pantheon of national heroes, how conservatives took advantage of the commemoration to bend the arc of King’s legacy toward something he never would have expected, and how grassroots causes, unions, and antiwar demonstrators continued to try to claim this sanctified day as their own.
BY GLENN T. ESKEW
Birmingham served as the stage for some of the most dramatic and important moments in the history of the civil rights struggle. In this vivid narrative account, Glenn Eskew traces the evolution of nonviolent protest in the city, focusing particularly on the sometimes problematic intersection of the local and national movements.
Eskew describes the changing face of Birmingham’s civil rights campaign, from the politics of accommodation practiced by the city’s black bourgeoisie in the 1950s to local pastor Fred L. Shuttlesworth’s groundbreaking use of nonviolent direct action to challenge segregation during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In 1963, the national movement, in the person of Martin Luther King Jr., turned to Birmingham. The national uproar that followed on Police Commissioner Bull Connor’s use of dogs and fire hoses against the demonstrators provided the impetus behind passage of the watershed Civil Rights Act of 1964.
EDITED BY STEWART BURNS
The Montgomery bus boycott was a formative moment in twentieth-century history: a harbinger of the African American freedom movement, a springboard for the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., and a crucial step in the struggle to realize the American dream of liberty and equality for all. In Daybreak of Freedom, Stewart Burns presents a groundbreaking documentary history of the boycott. Using an extraordinary array of more than one hundred original documents, he crafts a compelling and comprehensive account of this celebrated year-long protest of racial segregation.
Daybreak of Freedom reverberates with the voices of those closest to the bus boycott, ranging from King and his inner circle, to Jo Ann Robinson and other women leaders who started the protest, to the maids, cooks, and other ‘foot soldiers’ who carried out the struggle. With a deft narrative hand and editorial touch, Burns weaves their testimony into a riveting story that shows how events in Montgomery pushed the entire nation to keep faith with its stated principles.