King Book Summary - King Book explained in key points
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King summary

Jonathan Eig

A Life

4.5 (21 ratings)
20 mins
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    Little Mike to Reverend Doctor King

    Delia and Jim King, devout Christians, were sharecroppers who lived with their nine children in a shack 20 miles from Atlanta, Georgia. They were one generation removed from slavery and faced routine violence and racism from white people. Their second child, Michael, was born in 1897. He attended a rural school with a semi-literate teacher, as did the other King children. Sharecropping kept the family poor. In 1912, at the age of 14, Michael left home, barefoot, and headed for Atlanta.

    He worked for a railroad company and was soon promoted from coal shoveling to firing coal for steam engines. He had a great desire to preach and by 1920 he was working regularly as a preacher. On Thanksgiving Day 1926, Michael married Alberta Williams, daughter of Reverend A. D. Williams and Jennie Celeste Williams. In early 1927, Reverend Michael King became associate pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, working alongside his now father-in-law.

    That November, Alberta gave birth to their first child, Willie Christine. And around midday, January 15, 1929, their second child was born: Michael King. The couple called him Little Mike.

    In 1934, following a visit to Germany where the Reverend King learned about Martin Luther, he adopted the name Martin Luther King and changed that of Little Mike to Martin Luther King, Jr., but the boy continued to be known as Little Mike, and, more often, M. L. at home.

    Growing up on Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, M. L. often played with the white son of the local store owner. After starting school, their friendship began to fade. It was at the age of six that he first became aware of a race problem, as his friend told him that he could no longer play with Black children. His mum instilled in him, though, that he was “as good as anyone.”

    L. excelled at school. He loved books, learned “big words,” and began to memorize Bible passages and hymns. In 1944, at the age of 15, M. L. gained early admission to Morehouse College. There, he was mentored by leaders like college president Benjamin Mays who imparted a social gospel philosophy calling for racial justice and nonviolent resistance to oppression. It was during his second year at Morehouse that M. L. decided he’d follow in his father’s footsteps and become a minister. He was formally ordained at the age of 19, on February 25, 1948. At his graduation from Morehouse, he was one of three students who received an oratorical prize. The report of the graduation in the Atlanta Daily World was the first time his full name, Martin Luther King Jr., was ever published.

    After graduating, against the wishes of his father, King attended a predominantly white, nondenominational school, Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. There, he deepened his knowledge of peaceful protest theories from thinkers like Gandhi and Thoreau. He gained a bachelor of arts in divinity at Crozer and then went on to Boston University, in 1951 to pursue a doctorate. His choice of Boston was partly to study under Edgar S. Brightman who was known for his view of a personal God rather than an impersonal one.

    After some rocky moments in their courtship, King married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953. She’d go on to become a vital partner in his civil rights activism.

    In August 1954, the Kings moved from Boston to Montgomery, Alabama, a city with deeply entrenched Jim Crow laws enforcing segregation of Black and white people in all public facilities. There, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was taken on as the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. That same year, the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, raising hopes for further racial progress.

    In June 1955, King received his Doctorate of Philosophy in Systematic Theology from Boston University, becoming Reverend Doctor King.

    As remarkable as his academic achievements were, his journey for what he would become was just starting.

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    What is King about?

    King (2023) is a compelling biography of Martin Luther King. It tells the story of a man, not a saint, who had a remarkable career. His life was cut short at the age of 39, but in his 13-year career King’s vision of a United States based on equality and justice for all, lives on.

    Who should read King?

    • History lovers particularly interested in the history of social justice movements
    • Civil rights activists and advocates inspired by King’s life and strategies
    • Inspiration seekers wanting to learn from a story of struggle, resilience, and monumental impact

    About the Author

    Jonathan Eig has authored six books, four of which are New York Times best sellers. Prior to writing King, Eig wrote a biography of Mohammed Ali, which many consider to be one of the best sports biographies of all time. His other books include Luckiest Man and The Birth of the Pill.

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