In this new biography, distinguished historian Paul Harvey examines Martin Luther King’s life through his complex, emerging religious lives. Harvey introduces many readers, perhaps for the first or only time, to the King of diverse religious and intellectual influences, of an increasingly radical cast of thought, and of a mélange of intellectual influences that he aligned in becoming the spokesperson for the most important social movement of twentieth-century American history. Not only does Harvey chronicle King’s metamorphosis and its impact on American and African American life, but he seeks to explain his “afterlives”—how in American culture King became transformed into a mainstream civil saint, shorn of his radical religious critique of how power functioned in America. Harvey’s concise biography will allow readers to see King anew in the context of his time and today.
Paul Harvey is distinguished professor of history and presidential teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and the author of numerous books on American religious history including, with Rowman & Littlefield, Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity (CHOICE Outstanding), and Bounds of Their Habitation: Race and Religion in American History. He is the coauthor with Edward J. Blum of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in American History, named as one of the top 25 academic books of the year by CHOICE and as one of the Best 5 Books on Religion for 2012 by Publishers Weekly.
Table of Contents
Introduction The Redemptive Power of Martin Luther King
1 Growing Up King
2 The Young Preacher in Boston and Montgomery
3 The Montgomery Uprising
4 Montgomery and SCLC
5 The Dream, the Letter, and the Nightmare
6 Struggling in Selma and Chicago
7 Shot Rings Out in the Memphis Sky
Epilogue The Irrelevance of Sainthood: The Afterlives of King
Historian and professor Harvey (The Color of Christ) plumbs the background and writings of Martin Luther King Jr. to provocatively build a religious frame around the civil rights leader’s beliefs and tactics. Delving into the formative intellectual and theological influences on King’s writings and activities, Harvey’s approach is not primarily as a biographer but rather a close reader of the evolution of King’s thought; as Harvey notes, “King’s radicalism had deep roots. The black religious tradition informed him through its history of protest and proclamation.” King’s ways of thinking are considered across his accomplishments and failures in civil rights campaigns including in Montgomery, Selma, and Chicago. Throughout, Harvey stresses King’s unwavering commitment to nonviolence; his political realism, derived in part from his study of Reinhold Niebuhr; and his fundamental economic radicalism. (King first read Karl Marx in 1949 while in seminary.) Harvey also acknowledges King’s “anxiety reduction” practices of drinking and sexual dalliance (which the FBI surveilled obsessively). Importantly, Harvey takes on in an epilogue the “distortions” (or “symbolism [over] substance”) of King’s message in the decades following his 1968 assassination. This careful and of-the-moment examination of King’s fundamentally religious worldview should take a prominent place on the shelf of literature about the man who changed 20th century America.
Paul Harvey’s Martin Luther King: A Religious Life provides a succinct and refreshing perspective on King’s intellectual influences, his development as a thinker and activist during his own time, and the varied ways he has been remembered since his death. Harvey demonstrates that King should not be remembered solely as a moderate advocate of nonviolence but rather as a radical thinker who called for a complete restructuring of American society, politics, and economics. Martin Luther King Jr., Harvey argues, was the most important religious thinker of the 1900s. This book provides an essential window into that religious thought and will be of great benefit to both scholars and the general public alike.
Harvey tells us that King is the most important figure in modern American religious history, and then he shows us why he’s right. This engaging and accessible book synthesizes a generation of cutting-edge King and civil rights scholarship. Here, general readers will meet the King scholars know well: not the comfortable, bland, and conservative token of reconciliation but a preacher committed to a radical message of racial and economic equality, and to moral accountability for systemic injustices.
2/11/21, Choice: This title was included in a "Forthcoming Titles in African American Studies" feature.
10/29/21, Publishers Weekly: This title was a Publisher's Weekly "Pick of the Week" for the week of November 1.
11/11/21, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education: This book was included in a list of recent titles of interest to African American scholars.