It’s hard to live in America and not know who Martin Luther King Jr. was. If you’re reading this from out of the country, MLK was a black Baptist minister who became the driving force in the 1960’s fight for civil rights, and for the equal treatment of black citizens in America. His call was for peaceful protest and non-violence – always non-violence – and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. For his outstanding efforts, Mr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. James Earl Ray was charged with the murder, a white troublemaker with a 7th grade education and a long rap sheet. Ray admitted to the crime, had a strong timeline leading up to the crime, had fingerprints on the weapon, but because he lied numerous times and changed pleas and facts all over the place, conspiracy theories abound.
Kings death no doubt played a major role in the passage of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, just a week later, in an effort to help quell the riots that followed his death. His examples reached into South Africa and Northern Ireland, areas of long hostilities, and a statue of him stands in Westminster Abbey in London.
King’s beliefs and activities created as many conflicts as they tried to solve. While the racially charged South saw him as too progressive, so far as to call him a communist, many in the black community, such as Malcolm X, thought he didn’t go far enough and demanded radical action, not peaceful protests. King alienated himself from the US government by opposing the war in Vietnam. Herbert Hoover, head of the FBI, considered King a radical and sent him threatening letters. It wasn’t until 1986 that Ronald Reagan enacted Martin Luther King Day as a Federally recognized holiday.
Biographies will give the standard information on Martin Luther King, and while White Trash (warning: FaceBook will jail you for discussing this book) and Caste are excellent books which will open your eyes to issues you never considered, they’re heavy on sociology and can be difficult to slog through at times. If you’d rather read about the issues he fought against, and where we stand today on Civil Rights in an easier fashion, check out these non-fiction books that will give you a good perspective of the issues. If non-fiction isn’t your thing, try these novels about modern issues as well, and realize we still have a long way to go.