At the heart of My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. is a pervasive emphasis upon the incompleteness of modern life, an emptiness caused chiefly by the materialism and social inequality that have accompanied the development of Western civilization. Even in the midst of the axial period of early Greek culture—when new heights of philosophy, religion, and democracy were attained—there was destructive inequality, the author argues. It continued in later centuries:Greece gave us noble philosophy and poetic insights, but her glorious cities were built on a foundation of slavery. Western civilization was also great, bequeathing to us glories of art and culture as well as the Industrial Revolution that was the beginning of material abundance for man. But it was based on injustice and colonialism and allowed its material means to outdistance spiritual ends.
Her husband, she argues, had understood this analysis and its corollary: that individuals are also incomplete for much the same reason. Indeed, the recovery of completeness within the individual is the key to real hope for social fulfillment. Drawing heavily upon the imagery of Social Gospel theologian Walter Rauschenbusch, Martin had called for a “Beloved Community” informed by religious faith and permeated by a spirit of selfless service to mankind. “Set yourself earnestly to discover what you are made to do,” he had challenged, “and then give yourself passionately to the doing of...
(The entire section is 499 words.)
An ever-enlarging body of literature on Martin Luther King, Jr., and the nonviolent Civil Rights movement has provided the reading public with a massive literature on civil rights history. The availability of King’s papers at the King Center in Atlanta and other libraries and archives has made possible a wide variety of coverage. Most of this has been written by nonblack scholars working within the framework of academia or journalism. Coretta King’s autobiographical account is different from much of this in three respects, and these features define the place of her work in the history of African American literature.
First, she is an African American. Her book reflects the soul-searching quest for personal identity of a young woman who, like her husband, had been forced early to learn the parameters of black Americans’ participation in society. She knew firsthand about the necessity to be the best in order to have a fair chance to enter the prestigious institutions of higher learning or to carve out a career in a society where race loomed larger as a challenge than it did after the Civil Rights movement.
Second, Coretta Scott King was the wife of a man widely regarded as the most influential African American reform leader of the post-World War II period. That was surely not an easy role. She stayed home during most of the campaigns and was thus remote from the detail. She had to keep up with what was going on, to intervene at times to...
(The entire section is 455 words.)