Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499

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.

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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 it.” Both Coretta and her husband believed that only in that way could positive change come.

Implicit in this is a theme of service and a related response to providential guidance. Although not a religious book as such, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. returns frequently, through quotations, conversations, and personal reflections, to the theme of God’s leadership. It first appears in a decisive way in Coretta’s recollections of that moment in Boston when she and Martin decided to accept the pastorate in Montgomery:Though I had been opposed to going to Montgomery, I realize now that it was an inevitable part of a greater plan for our lives. Even in 1954 I felt that my husband was being prepared—and I too—for a special role about which we would learn more later. Each experience that we had was preparation for the next one.

Clearly, Coretta welcomed that role in the sense that she identified with the Christian nonviolent approach—both during and after her husband’s life—and shared much of its content in her account. Particularly detailed and personal is her treatment of the assassination in Memphis and the subsequent parade and funeral in Atlanta. Stunned and shocked, she committed herself to keeping his memory and the movement alive. In one of her appendixes, she quotes Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, the former president of Morehouse College, who had been a longtime supporter of Martin. “If we love Martin Luther King, Jr. and respect him,” Mays insisted at the slain leader’s funeral, “let us see to it that he did not die in vain.”

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