BOOK CLUB: The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

19daa-autobiography-of-martin-luther-king-jrI’m not quite finished with The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. But I want to keep the book club on schedule, so I’m sharing my thoughts on it today anyway.

His entire story has inspired me so far—as evidenced by the underlined passages on almost every page I’ve read!

What a gift, to get inside Dr. King’s head as he…

…processed his experience as a minority in our country:

“The first time I was seated behind a curtain in a dining car, I felt as if the curtain had been dropped on my selfhood.” 

…formulated his theology:

“Any religion that professes concern for the souls of men and is not equally concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried. It well has been said: ‘A religion that ends with the individual, ends.’”

“The more I thought about human nature, the more I saw how our tragic inclination for sin causes us to use our minds to rationalize our actions…Reason by itself is little more than an instrument to justify man’s defensive ways of thinking.”

…and his ministry philosophy:

“Nonviolent resistance…was effective in that it had a way of disarming the opponent. It exposed his moral defenses. It weakened his morale, and at the same time it worked on his conscience. It also provided a method for Negroes to struggle to secure moral ends through moral means. Thus, it provided a creative force through which men could channel their discontent.”

“The believer in nonviolence is the person who will willingly allow himself to be the victim of violence but will never inflict violence upon another. He lives by the conviction that through his suffering and cross bearing, the social situation may be redeemed.”

…trusted God to speak powerfully through him, when he did not have adequate time to create a speech:

“Right here in Montgomery, when the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say, ‘There lived a race of people, a black people, “fleecy locks and black complexion,” a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization.’”

…discerned underlying issues of the heart of man:

“I came to see that no one gives up his privileges without strong resistance. I saw further that the underlying purpose of segregation was to oppress and exploit the segregated, not simply to keep them apart.”

“You see, equality is not only a matter of mathematics and geometry, but it’s a matter of psychology…It is possible to have quantitative equality and qualitative inequality.”

…became convicted about his own sin:

“’You must not harbor anger,’ I admonished myself. ‘You must be willing to suffer the anger of the opponent, and yet not return anger. You must not become bitter. No matter how emotional your opponents are, you must be calm.’”

…defined his movement on his own terms:

“This is not a war between the white and the negro but a conflict between justice and injustice. This is bigger than the Negro race revolting against the white. We are seeking to improve not the Negro of Montgomery but the whole of Montgomery.”

…wrestled with leadership decisions, admitted to and learned from his mistakes, described the role of Negro spirituals in bolstering his people’s courage, and so much more.

I also loved reading more of the backstory behind Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which I blogged about in January.

Once again, I feel grateful to be mentored by such an amazing leader. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand our country’s history more fully, or to anyone seeking a godly role model as they fight for justice and work to change our world for the better.

Who else read Dr. King’s autobiography this month, or previously? What impacted you the most? What were your favorite quotes or stories?

Will my book club hot streak continue? Let’s find out! Join me in reading March’s selection, A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China’s Daughters by Chai Ling.

2 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

  1. Stephanie,

    Thanks for having this be on your book club list. I probably wouldn't have read it otherwise, but it is on my top biographies of all time list now. I learned so much about a man I should have already known more about.

    The thing that impacted me the most was the way that segregation was internalized as inferiority by people in the black community. It became internalized. Here are some quotes:


    “My mother confronted the age-old problem of the Negro parent in America: how to explain discrimination and segregation to a small child. She taught me that I should feel a sense of “somebodiness” but that on the other hand I had to go out and face a system that stared me in the face every day saying you are “less than,” you are “not equal to.” … She made it clear that she opposed this system and that I must never allow it to make me feel inferior.”

    “one must not overlook the positive value in calling the Negro to a new sense of manhood, to a deep feeling of racial pride, and to an audacious appreciation of his heritage. The Negro had to be grasped by a new realization of his dignity and worth. He had to stand up amid a system that still oppresses him and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of his own value. He could no longer be ashamed of being black.”

    “Once plagued with a tragic sense of inferiority resulting from the crippling effects of slavery and segregation, the Negro was driven to reevaluate himself. He had come to feel that he was somebody. This growing self-respect has inspired the Negro with a new determination to struggle and sacrifice until first-class citizenship becomes a reality. This is the true meaning of the Montgomery Story. One can never understand the bus protest in Montgomery without understanding that there is a new Negro in the South, with a new sense of dignity and destiny.”

    “In Birmingham, you would be living in a community where the white man’s long-lived tyranny had cowed your people, led them to abandon hope, and developed in them a false sense of inferiority.”

    “So I must return to the valley—a valley filled with misguided bloodthirsty mobs, but a valley filled at the same time with little Negro boys and girls who grow up with ominous clouds of inferiority forming in their little mental skies;”

    “For years the Negro had been taught that he was nobody, that his color was a sign of his biological depravity, that his being was stamped with an indelible imprint of inferiority, that his whole history was soiled with the filth of worthlessness. All too few people realize how slavery and racial segregation scarred the soul and wounded the spirit of the black man.”


    I've become convinced through my experiences with Destino and through reading this book that if EFM is truly going to live out the gospel that it must include a fight for dignity and worth for ethnic minorities. It cannot be only about the plan of salvation. It must include the gospel, and that must include worth and dignity.

    Contextualized ministry has always been explained as strategic, it needs to also be explained as restoring the worth to human beings who have had it stripped away from them and internalized that as inferiority.

    Thanks for having this book this month. It has changed me. I wish I had read it sooner.


  2. Eric, I LOVE your highlights and thoughts. And I think you're absolutely right about your assessment of the necessity of the restoration of honor and dignity to our minority peoples. Thank you for putting your thoughts down here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s