Books for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

To honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we put together a list of books about the life and legacy of the prominent American Civil Rights Movement leader.

In His Own Words

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Clayborne Carson

Edited by Clayborne Carson, this autobiography weaves together Dr. King’s published and unpublished articles, essays, sermons, letters, diary entries and more. Published in 1998, it delves into everything from Dr. King’s early years to his time at Morehouse College to his ministry and other key moments.

Carson was asked in 1985 by Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow, to collect, assemble and publish the work of her late husband. This endeavor would go on to be called “The King Papers Project.” A professor of history, emeritus, at Stanford University, Carson founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute in 2005.

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A Knock at Midnight: Original Recordings of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Also edited by Clayborne Carson, along with Peter Holloran, this audiobook collection features recordings of iconic King sermons, including “Rediscovering Lost Values,” “A Knock at Midnight,” “The American Dream” and “When Jesus Called a Man a Fool.”

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The Radical King edited by Cornel West

Edited and introduced by social activist and philosopher Cornel West, this collection sets out to capture Dr. King as “every bit as radical as Malcolm X.” The collection is arranged in four parts and includes 23 curated selections.

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YA & Middle Grades Reads

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Released in 2017, Dear Martin was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 best YA books of all time. The young adult novel follows Justyce, an honor student with Ivy League aspirations attending a predominantly white prep school. None of that matters to the police officer who put him in handcuffs. To make sense of the incident, and his identity as a Black teenager, Justyce turns to the teachings of Dr. King.

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Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery

This middle grades read tells the story of Lynda Blackmon Lowery, the youngest person to take part in the Selma Voting Rights March of 1965. In the illustrated memoir, Lowery recalls her frequent imprisonments, fighting alongside Dr. King, and how it felt to be a young person changing American history.

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Children’s Books

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan & R. Gregory Christie

This award-winning picture book tells the story of a nine-year-old girl who witnessed the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis, Tennessee. The historic strike was sparked by the death of two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed by their garbage trucks. 1,300 Black sanitation workers went on strike in the following days, demanding safe working conditions.

Dr. King attended the protests and gave one of his best-known speeches, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” just a day before his assassination.

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A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Davis & Eric Velasquez

Similarly, A Sweet Smell of Roses is a picture book about two young girls who sneak out of their house to witness a freedom march during the Civil Rights Movement.

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