Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle that Changed A Nation

Jonathan Rieder, Author
Jonathan Rieder. Bloomsbury, $24 (224p) ISBN 978-1-62040058-6
Reviewed on: 02/11/2013
Release date: 04/09/2013
Open Ebook - 978-1-62040-060-9
Paperback - 218 pages - 978-1-62040-059-3
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In this study of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Barnard College sociologist Rieder (The Word of the Lord Is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Martin Luther King, Jr.) places the Civil Rights leader’s important work in its historical and literary context. Rieder devotes a full 40 pages to setting the tumultuous scene in 1963. The meat of the book, however, is Rieder’s detailed analysis of the letter itself. Rieder meticulously identifies both subtle and overt shifts in King’s tone and intent, ranging from diplomacy to anger; by the second half of the letter, King “[is] mainly finished with explaining himself to his white critics. He is now ready to reprimand them.” Rieder assumes a familiarity with the text as he analyzes the letter and displays a remarkably deep knowledge of King’s larger body of work, with cross-references and connections to other sermons and writings. Perhaps the most powerful and instructive of these comparisons is in relation to the “I Have a Dream” speech, given a few months after the letter was penned. The book closes with a broad analysis of how the letter affected the fight for equality in Birmingham and how it continues to inspire. Agent: Susan Rabiner, the Susan Rabiner Literary Agency. (Apr.)
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