In the United States on the third Monday of every January, we have the opportunity to come together as a nation and celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. In the midst of the chaos and oppression that accompanied the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. rose above hate and violence to guide a broken nation toward a future where people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” As our country once again navigates divisiveness, we are faced with two choices: to be silent, or to lean into the discomfort and work for change. To celebrate this important holiday and find inspiration for continuing King’s work, consider these ten books.
The first five pertain directly to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, while the last five cover racism and oppression in America today. So pick your book, find your voice, and dive into the narratives of advocates past and present. Together we can continue MLK’s mission to create a more just and loving world.
1. Strength to Love
Written by Martin Luther King Jr. and published in 1963, Strength to Love is a compilation of several of King’s sermons that speak out against racial inequality.
2. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.
What better way to learn more about Martin Luther King Jr. than to delve into his autobiography? Editor Clayborne Carson compiled interviews, recordings, correspondence, and writings to create an incredible first-person account. The book was published over 30 years after King’s assassination.
3. My Life with Martin Luther King Jr.
Published in 1969, Coretta Scott King’s memoir details her life experiences during the Civil Rights Movement as King’s wife and confidant, and the immense heartbreak brought on by his assassination.
4. Parting the Waters: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement 1954-63
In the first volume of his America in the King Years series, Taylor Branch dives into the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.’s pivotal role.
5. Code Name Zorro: The Murder of Martin Luther King Jr.
In his 1977 book, Mark Lane writes about the curious circumstances surrounding Martin Luther King’s assassination.
6. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
Written by Emory University professor Carol Anderson and published in 2016, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide continues the conversation on racial inequality in the United States of America.
7. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
In her 2010 book, scholar Michelle Alexander presents compelling evidence that we have not resolved racial inequality in our nation. She sheds light on modern day discrimination, especially within the justice system.
8. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Written by lawyer Bryan Stevenson (founder of the Equal Justice Initiative), this enlightening book closely examines the flaws in our criminal justice system when it comes to defending marginalized communities and individuals.
9. Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives
True to its title, journalist Gary Younge’s book chronicles the tragic and senseless deaths of children on November 23, 2013. This day was chosen at random to represent a horrifying statistic: on an average day in the United States, seven children and teens will be killed by guns. This is an issue that tears apart families across all races and walks of life.
10. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
Winner of the U.S. National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2016, Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America passionately discredits the myth that we are living in a post-racial society.