DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Jul 30 2012

Citizen King

by Jnai W

I wish I could do justice to the inspiration of this blog post in this blog post. There isn’t really enough space in this format, there isn’t enough time (as I’m anxious to get back to my reading on this, my inspiration), nor do I have enough words to fully express myself.

This past week or so I’ve been reading several books at once but most of them revolve around the life, the death and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The first book that I have been reading that has inspired me to learn more about Dr. King is an incredibly insightful book by Michael Eric Dyson, one of my favorite contemporary writers and thinkers, called April 4, 1968.

In this book, Dyson examines the life, the activism and, most specifically the death of Dr. King.  Dyson writes that King’s understanding of his “calling”, the moral imperative to stand up against injustice, and also King’s sense of his own mortality were driving forces in his Civil Rights leadership. The spectre of suffering and death was ever-present in King’s life: from the violence that marked the Civil Rights movement to the constant threats against his own life. It was his deep belief in the righteousness of the cause and his strong faith in God and in America that sustained him throughout his life in the Movement.

Upon reading this book, I’ve been inspired to return to Dr. King’s sermons, letters and writings for deeper insight into his faith, his philosophy and acts of powerful non-violent demonstration against racial injustice and, increasingly, against poverty and war. The more I read the more I’d come to realize that, though I’d grown up aware of Dr. King’s legacy, there was much that I didn’t know about his life and his work. As a result I’m pouring over a few books featuring the words of Dr. King including A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.

In between studying his words, I’ve also seen an incredible PBS American Experience documentary Citizen King, addressing the last five years of Dr. King’s life. The film, directed by Orlando Bagwell and W. Noland Walker, is a richly-detailed, beautifully-realized exploration of the life and times of King. Citizen King tells the story of King’s work beyond the familiar images of his March on Washington and beyond the well-known words of his “I Have A Dream” speech. The film sheds light on his work in the Poor People’s Campaign, addressing economic injustice and poverty, and also addresses his vocal (and highly controversial) opposition to the Vietnam War.

The aforementioned works reminded me of the impact of Dr. King, a legacy that in my opinion shouldn’t be relegated to one day in January or to the following month of February. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. But he also had the conviction, the passion, the courage and the clarity of vision to stand for what he believed in.

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