Summary: If all you remember from Martin Luther King Jr is his “I have a dream…” speech, The Radical King will round out his legacy.
Last week I finished up an audiobook collection of Howard Thurman’s sermons, prayers, and teachings. What I loved about it was that it was actually Thurman’s voice. The quality was not up to current standards, but there was value in hearing his actual voice. The problem with the collection was that it was mostly snippets of content, rarely more than 10 minutes of any particular talk.
The Radical King, edited by Cornel West has the opposite problem. This is full-length sermons or speeches, but they are read by modern celebrity narrators. All of the narrators do a fine job and the audio quality is excellent, but it is not King’s voice and King’s voice is one of the most recognizable of the last century. The reality is that for both of these collections, there are just limitations based on what is available. Cornel West is trying to give insight into the breadth of King’s thinking. Radical seems to promise a bit too much, King was radical for his time, but while there was an article celebrating, Norman Thomas, a prominent socialist, there was also more than one instance of King showing why he was not a communist or socialist.
The Radical King does a good job showing the changes toward the end of his life, paying more attention to economic issues, speaking to a trade union, or his anti-Vietnam bent. He also addresses the Black Power movement, colonialism, antisemitism, and throughout it all, his strong commitment to anti-violence. There are prominent talks or articles here, like The Drum Major Instinct, the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop and Where Do We Go From Here. But the emphasis is on is lesser know work.
Cornel West is not particularly trying to show his Christianity here, but as always with King, that faith shines through in almost everything that Martin Luther King Jr says and does.