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The Autobiography Of Martin Luther King, Jr.

King's journey to becoming the leading figure in the American civil rights movement

By Martin Luther King, Jr.
18-minute read
Audio available
The Autobiography Of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Autobiography Of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1998) is a firsthand account of the life and work of one of the most important figures in recent American history: Martin Luther King Jr. Assembled from his writings, letters, interviews, and speeches, this autobiography tells of King’s journey from Christian minister in the segregated South to leading figure of the civil rights movement. 

  • History and political buffs
  • Citizens concerned with issues of racial, social, and economic justice
  • Anyone looking to educate themselves on Black American history

Martin Luther King Jr. was a religious leader, activist, and key figure in the American civil rights movement of the 1960s. An ordained Christian minister, he led the Montgomery bus protests and the March on Washington and was involved in organizing numerous other civil rights campaigns across the United States. In 1964, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his life’s work. He was assassinated in 1968. 

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The Autobiography Of Martin Luther King, Jr.

King's journey to becoming the leading figure in the American civil rights movement

By Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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The Autobiography Of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Synopsis

The Autobiography Of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1998) is a firsthand account of the life and work of one of the most important figures in recent American history: Martin Luther King Jr. Assembled from his writings, letters, interviews, and speeches, this autobiography tells of King’s journey from Christian minister in the segregated South to leading figure of the civil rights movement. 

Key idea 1 of 11

Growing up, Martin Luther King Jr. experienced racial and economic injustice firsthand.

Born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. came into a divided world that was in deep economic trouble. The American South was still heavily segregated, and the Great Depression was just descending on the world. 

Nonetheless, the Kings considered themselves one of the luckier Black families of the time. They weren’t wealthy, but they lived a comfortable, if frugal, life on Martin Luther King Sr.’s salary as a Christian minister. In addition, their faith was a source of love and strength.

The key message in this blink is: Growing up, Martin Luther King Jr. experienced racial and economic injustice firsthand.

Martin Luther King’s father was a born preacher. Strong-willed and dynamic, he was revered in Atlanta’s Black community, and became an early figure in the civil rights movement that his son would soon spearhead.

In contrast, King’s mother, Alberta, was gentle and soft-spoken. But she was equally determined when it came to instilling a sense of self-respect in her children despite the discrimination they faced. It was she who taught King about the history of slavery in the United States, and tried her best to explain the ongoing system of segregation in the American South. 

As a child, King was often confounded by the seemingly arbitrary injustices that segregation produced. He wasn’t allowed to play in most public parks. He had to sit in the back of the bus, even if it was empty. And when a new movie came out, he had to wait for months until it reached Black theaters. But one of his most visceral early experiences of racism came when his childhood friend, a white boy living in his neighborhood, was suddenly no longer allowed to play with him. The boy’s father didn’t want his son to associate with Black people anymore.

As King got older, the racist structures that surrounded him only became more apparent to him. He observed police brutality and Ku Klux Klan beatings. And the poverty he witnessed in the Black community convinced him that there was a systemic connection between racist oppression and economic exploitation. 

As a result, King began early to advocate for racial justice. He led church and Bible study groups. At the age of fourteen, he participated in a speech contest for regional public schools, passionately advocating for the end of segregation. And this was only the beginning. 

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