A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.

by Martin Luther King Jr.


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"We've got some difficult days ahead," civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., told a crowd gathered at Memphis's Clayborn Temple on April 3, 1968. "But it really doesn't matter to me now because I've been to the mountaintop. . . . And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land."

These prophetic words, uttered the day before his assassination, challenged those he left behind to see that his "promised land" of racial equality became a reality; a reality to which King devoted the last twelve years of his life.

These words and others are commemorated here in the only major one-volume collection of this seminal twentieth-century American prophet's writings, speeches, interviews, and autobiographical reflections. A Testament of Hope contains Martin Luther King, Jr.'s essential thoughts on nonviolence, social policy, integration, black nationalism, the ethics of love and hope, and more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060646912
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/29/2003
Pages: 736
Sales rank: 119,432
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.84(d)
Lexile: 1180L (what's this?)

About the Author

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), civil rights leader and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace, inspired and sustained the struggle for freedom, nonviolence, interracial brotherhood, and social justice.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Nonviolence and Racial Justice

This article appeared in Christian Century, the premier liberal Protestant Journal, shortly after almost 100 black clergymen came to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in response to a call from the Reverends Fred Shuttlesworth, Charles K. Steele, and Dr. King. They met on 10-11 January 1957, formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and elected King as its first president. This article outlines King's hope that nonviolent direct action could become the philosophy around which committed Christians could rally in order to defeat the "evil" of segregation. With the encouragement and editorial assistance of two very important activist pacifists--the Reverend Glenn E. Smiley, national field secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and Bayard Rustin, then executive secretary of the War Resisters' League--King sought to use this philosophy through SCLC to focus and direct the new, black struggle for equality. As the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, he argued that this tactic had been used successfully in MIA's nonviolent boycott against that city's bus company. After 381 days of the black boycott, the U.S. Supreme Court on 13 November 1956 affirmed the 4 June decision handed down by a panel of three judges on the US. District Court, who ruled against the local and state segregation laws of Alabama.

It is commonly observed that the crisis in race relations dominates the arena of American life. This crisis has been precipitated by two factors: the determined resistance of reactionary elements in the South to the Supreme Court's momentous decision outlawing segregation in the public schools, and the radical change in the Negro's evaluation of himself. While southern legislative halls ring with open defiance through "interposition" and "nullification," while a modern version of the Ku Klux Klan has arisen in the form of "respectable" white citizens' councils, a revolutionary change has taken place in the Negro's conception of his own nature and destiny. Once he thought of himself as an inferior and patiently accepted injustice and exploitation. Those days are gone.

The first Negroes landed on the shores of this nation in 1619, one year ahead of the Pilgrim Fathers. They were brought here from Africa and, unlike the Pilgrims, they were brought against their will, as slaves. Throughout the era of slavery the Negro was treated in inhuman fashion. He was considered a thing to be used, not a person to be respected. He was merely a depersonalized cog in a vast plantation machine. The famous Dred Scott decision of 1857 well illustrates his status during slavery. In this decision the Supreme Court of the United States said, in substance, that the Negro is not a citizen of the United States; he is merely property subject to the dictates of his owner.

After his emancipation in 1863, the Negro still confronted oppression and inequality. It is true that for a time, while the army of occupation remained in the South and Reconstruction ruled, he had a brief period of eminence and political power. But he was quickly overwhelmed by the white majority. Then in 1896, through the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, a new kind of slavery came into being. In this decision the Supreme Court of the nation established the doctrine of "separate but equal" as the law of the land. Very soon it was discovered that the concrete result of this doctrine was strict enforcement of the "separate," without the slightest intention to abide by the "equal." So the Plessy doctrine ended up plunging the Negro into the abyss of exploitation where he experienced the bleakness of nagging injustice.

A Peace That Was No Peace

Living under these conditions, many Negroes lost faith in themselves. They came to feel that perhaps they were less than human. So long as the Negro maintained this subservient attitude and accepted the "place" assigned him, a sort of racial peace existed. But it was an uneasy peace in which the Negro was forced patiently to submit to insult, injustice and exploitation. It was a negative peace. True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force--tension, confusion or war; it is the presence of some positive force--justice, good will and brotherhood.

Then circumstances made it necessary for the Negro to travel more. From the rural plantation he migrated to the urban industrial community. His economic life began gradually to rise, his crippling illiteracy gradually to decline. A myriad of factors came together to cause the Negro to take a new look at himself. Individually and as a group, he began to reevaluate himself. And so he came to feel that he was somebody. His religion revealed to him that God loves all his children and that the important thing about a man is "not his specificity but his fundamentum," not the texture of his hair or the color of his skin but the quality of his soul.

This new self-respect and sense of dignity on the part of the Negro undermined the South's negative peace, since the white man refused to accept the change. The tension we are witnessing in race relations today can be explained in part by this revolutionary change in the Negro's evaluation of himself and his determination to struggle and sacrifice until the walls of segregation have been fully crushed by the battering rams of justice.

Quest For Freedom Everywhere

The determination of Negro Americans to win freedom from every form of oppression springs from the same profound longing for freedom that motivates oppressed peoples all over the world. The dynamic beat of deep discontent in Africa and Asia is at bottom a quest for freedom and human dignity on the part of people who have long been victims of colonialism. The struggle for freedom on the part of oppressed people in general and of the American Negro in particular has developed slowly and is not going to end suddenly.

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A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
erock71 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Testament of Hope is indispensible for a complete understanding of MLK Jr. the man. He was so much more than a monolithic figure of the Civil Rights movement. He was a pastor, theologian, philosopher, diplomat, husband, and father. A Testament of Hope helps the reader to grasp the multifaceted life of this icon of the twentieth century. This book lets the reader into the very human life of MLK Jr. Nowhere have I discovered a more cogent explanation of passive resistance than in the various speeches and essays contained in this book. If you are engaged in the struggle for civil rights or if you seek to better understand modern humanity more completely add this book to your library and consult it often.
MissLizzy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really hard to get through all at once--I finally had to take a break for a few weeks and read something else, and then come back to this. It's so inspiring, reading this speeches. But then you compare this ideal world of King's to this one, and you are disappointed. You don't realize how far from this ideal we are until you read about it non-stop for a month.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading this story was like an adventure in its own. Having it wriiten by Martin Luther King jr. himself made it that much more easy to understand his struggle to be hard. This story goes far beyond his 'I Have a Dream' speach. sometime people dont think much of him, or that all he did was say some important speach. I used to be one of those people, but not since I read this book. MLK realy was extremely important to how our country is today and I think some people forget that. But I think that anyone who reads this book would realize how important he realy is.This book show MLK's strive and perseverence even when people didnt want to listen to him. This story is full of real documents, letters and speeches. people dipised MLK but that never stopped him. He persevered until he was known as a hero. The book briefly goes over the begining of MLK's life instead the story goes into detail of when Martin was a young adualt. The story took me back to a time where things were much different. People often forget about those time or dont want to look back back on them but they happened. by reading i learned how horrible the discrimination was back then. the book also explain discrimonation that took place with other nationalities.istrongly recommend this book to people that enjoy history because that exactly what this book has to offer.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The collections of speeches, sermons, interviews and letters contained in this book will allow all readers to understand that Dr. King was more than the 'I Have A Dream' speech. One comes away knowing that King's first speech at the Lincoln Memorial was in 1957 on the third anniversary of the 1954 Brown vs. Topeka Desegregation ruling. It also shows that some of Dr. King's words in 'I Have A Dream' also appeared in other speeches. If I remember correctly, the last paragraph of 'I Have A Dream' was the ending for another speech. Additionally, while politicians today are talking about the lack of health care for 47 million Americans, Dr. King was talking about the same subject in the mid-1960's, but it was 42 million then. Dr. King also spoke about the inadequacies of Medicare and Medicade. My favorite piece in the book, which I think was more prophetic than 'I Have A Dream' is his sermon entitled 'A Knock At Midnight'. In that sermon he talked about and warned that America was going a path of relative morality where right and wrong were based on what was popular or who was doing it. Another point he commented on was that the Black church was not playing it true role in religion or in the Civil Rights struggle. He noted that Black churches were focusing too much on size, emotionalism and class of its members, and not enojgh on what the Bible teaches. Look around us at the Mega Churches. Finally, he warned/encouraged Blacks to see themselves as successful in many roles. To see themselves in higher positions and not be afraid to vote for our leaders running for office. Unfortunately the generation he was talking to then was in their late teens and early twenties. Now we are in our 60's and guess what-exit polls in recent primaries for 2008 show that it is our age group that is reluctant and afraid to vote for Obama because we can not see a Black Man winning as President. Rather than seeing that their vote is not only historic it is a strategic vote, our generation feels that we are throwing our vote away. The worse that is wasted in the one that is not casted. Maybe like the Isralites-we must wander around in the wildness for one more generation-until this type of thinking is washed away. BUY THE BOOK. STUDY THE BOOK. It is great reading and a great reference.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In only a short while, James M. Washington has pieced together some of the most important works of Martin Luther King while opening the public eyes to the constant struggle the Dr. faced. Not only the struggle to overcome the racial epithet that he was characterized with from the whites, but the struggle he overcame from his own race. As a reverend and public demonstrator, the more conservative blacks, who would rather have used the civil courts to diffuse social unrest rather than public demonstrations, despised him. However, because the system was so backwards, it was hard to come by justice. MLK is considered a classic hero because of his persistent strive for justice and ironically, in society, he was viewed as a threat. Which is why I choose this quote, which is said so near to the beginning, which is key because many of his speeches could be twisted to make him the enemy. 'And what the full-bodied reality of King should finally tell us, beyond all the awe and celebration of him, is how mysteriously mixed, in what torturously complicated forms, our moral heroes - our prophets - actually come to us.' What I liked about this autobiography is how the author flashed between his own perspective of MLK and the actual teachings and speeches of MLK. The reference to MLK¿s ¿I have a dream¿ speech (An actual speech given by MLK) can be referenced up to the philosophical teachings of modern philosopher Josiah Royce, who spoke about a ¿Beloved Community¿ (Something that the author adds as insight). Something I dislike about this book was how the author discussed such powerful themes of mostly race and gave many of the speeches and teachings that related to that, but at the end, started to add dialogues of how MLK started expanding his preaching¿s across seas to Vietnam. Then adding his own thoughts about how he was not nearly as successful. Alls that chapter did was weaken the entire book. Because these writings were so well pieced together, the end of this novel should just be taken out.