The Weekend Reading List MLK Day Special: The Radical King

The Radical King by Martin Luther King Jr.,

Edited and Introduced by Cornel West

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The Stats:

  • Publication Date: January 13, 2015
  • Non-fiction, essays, speeches, history, politics, race, biography, social justice, must read, more than just a dream
  • 4/5
  • WARNINGS: The writings of King gathered in this book might come as a shock for some of you who only know the “I have a dream” version of MLK Jr and can’t, or more particularly, choose not to see just how radical King was.

From Amazon

““The radical King was a democratic socialist who sided with poor and working people in the class struggle taking place in capitalist societies. . . . The response of the radical King to our catastrophic moment can be put in one word: revolution—a revolution in our priorities, a reevaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life, and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens. . . . Could it be that we know so little of the radical King because such courage defies our market-driven world?” —Cornel West, from the Introduction

Every year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is celebrated as one of the greatest orators in US history, an ambassador for nonviolence who became perhaps the most recognizable leader of the civil rights movement. But after more than forty years, few people appreciate how truly radical he was.

Arranged thematically in four parts, The Radical King includes twenty-three selections, curated and introduced by Dr. Cornel West, that illustrate King’s revolutionary vision, underscoring his identification with the poor, his unapologetic opposition to the Vietnam War, and his crusade against global imperialism. As West writes, “Although much of America did not know the radical King—and too few know today—the FBI and US government did. They called him ‘the most dangerous man in America.’ . . . This book unearths a radical King that we can no longer sanitize.””

Zo’s Review:

radical (adj.)

  1. of or going to the root or origin; fundamental:
    a radical difference.
  2. thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regardschange from accepted or traditional forms:
    a radical change in the policy of a company.
  3. favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms:
    radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.
  4. favoring, supporting, or representing extreme forms of religious fundamentalism
  5. forming a basis or foundation.
  6. existing inherently in a thing or person

For those of you who don’t know, Cornel West is a prominent American philosopher, political activist, social critic, and author. He’s a pretty big deal and much of his writing has to do with race, gender, and class in American society.

With his most recent book, The Radical King, West takes writings/speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and splits them into four parts: Radical Love; Prophetic Vision: Global Analysis and Local Praxis; the Revolution of Nonviolent Resistance: Against Empire and White Supremacy; and Overcoming the Tyranny of Poverty and Hatred. Each part begins with an introduction and introspective look at King that shows a seldomly seen radical version of King, different and much more powerful and relevant to what is going on in the U.S. today than even his most well known “I Have a Dream” speech.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t until recently, when I was still a freshman in college and first heard West speak, that I would even consider Martin Luther King Jr. as being radical. I mean, the term in a political sense, has a lot of negative connotations. I wouldn’t have initially associated the term with the man who was at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. People tend to think of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers as radical (though more and more I’m realizing that’s a matter of perspective) but not so much King. MLK has been watered down to a non-violent protesting black man with a dream he talked about in nice words. What’s surprising is that King, especially towards his later years, was very radical. According to West, 72% of whites and 55% of blacks during King’s time thought he was very radical and “disapproved of his opposition to the Vietnam War and his efforts to eradicate poverty in America” (West, 2015).

The majority of the book is made up of 23 selections of MLK’s work, many which you can easily find on the internet such as the famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. What West has done is put these pieces together in a way that highlights King’s radical love for his country and for justice despite the ugly realities that filled and still fill the United States in regards to race and class. Growing up as a black female in the United States, I always thought Martin Luther King Jr. was important to American history. However, West’s compilation of King’s works has in the wake of recent events in the U.S. – such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement as well as what is going on with our current president-elect and the impact that has had on the country – has shown that not only were King’s words important during the Civil Rights for that generation but also now for this new generation desiring and fighting for social justice. In many ways, King becomes more relatable, turning from this nonviolent minister with a dream to a radical civil rights leader who loved this country and its people, even when they hated him, but also a man that hated the injustice shown towards him and the many men, women, and children like him that in some cases forced peopled into poverty while the majority group either continued to suppress them or turned their backs on them and essentially saying, “Wait your turn”.

Through reading The Radical King, Martin Luther King Jr., I’ve learned to think about this historical figure in a new light as well as how history and those in charge can shape a man from this radical, progressive, and inspiring man to a mere caricature of who he really was. The “I Have a Dream” King is important but also the radical and perhaps even unapologetic in his stance and beliefs King is equally, or maybe more, important.

What do you all think? Have you read The Radical King already? Have any other book suggestions that I should add to my Weekend Reading List? Leave your thoughts behind in the comments. Just be respectful please.

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