Study Guide

The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume I

by Martin Luther King Jr.

The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume I Essay - Critical Essays

The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume I

In his application to Crozer Seminary in 1948, the young Martin Luther King, Jr., noted that in 1944 he had felt an unshakable call to serve society. CALLED TO SERVE begins the process of publishing letters and other documents both by and about King and represents the first fruits of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project, which began in earnest in 1985.

Senior Editor Clayborne Carson has presided over the creation of a well-crafted and editorially astute volume. A fifty-page introduction covering King’s life through 1951 is both historical and analytical. Headnotes put each document into the appropriate context, and King’s class papers for Morehouse and Crozer are painstakingly annotated. Incidents of plagiarism in these papers are quietly noted in the editorial apparatus, which also provides excerpts from the relevant sources used by King.

Though derivative, King’s developing theology during his seminary days reflected a tension between the liberal, high-minded view of human potential (a view which King favored) and the neoorthodox emphasis on human sinfulness. By the age of twenty-one, King was calling his position “eclectic.” He also sought to reconcile his work as a scholar of religion with his roots in the black tradition of the Ebenezer Baptist Church (where his father, and earlier his grandfather, pastored) in Atlanta.

King found something of a resolution in the personalist theology of Edgar S. Brightman. The Boston University theologian taught that religious experience, especially that of one’s formative years, was decisive in developing personal religious meaning. CALLED TO SERVE ends with a letter from Crozer Seminary to Boston University’s graduate school noting that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been awarded the degree of Bachelor of Divinity.

Sources for Further Study

Atlanta Journal Constitution. February 23, 1992, p. N9.

Black Scholar. XXII, Summer, 1992, p. 81

Booklist. LXXXVIII, February 1, 1992, p. 994.

Ebony. XLVII, March, 1992, p. 16.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. March 15, 1992, p. 2.

The New Republic. CCVI, May 11, 1992, p. 33.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, March 15, 1992, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, January 1, 1992, p. 41.

Tikkun. VII, September, 1992, p. 69.

The Washington Post Book World. XXII, July 26, 1992, p. 20.