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 modern celebrity narrators read them. 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 there are just limitations for both of these collections 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 his strong commitment to anti-violence throughout it all. 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 We Go From. But the emphasis is on lesser know work.
Cornel West is not trying to show his Christianity here, but as always with King, that faith shines through in almost everything Martin Luther King Jr says and does.