cover image Martin Luther King: A Religious Life

Martin Luther King: A Religious Life

Paul Harvey. Rowman & Littlefield, $35 (224p) ISBN 978-1-5381-1592-3

Historian and professor Harvey (The Color of Christ) plumbs the background and writings of Martin Luther King Jr. to provocatively build a religious frame around the civil rights leader’s beliefs and tactics. Delving into the formative intellectual and theological influences on King’s writings and activities, Harvey’s approach is not primarily as a biographer but rather a close reader of the evolution of King’s thought; as Harvey notes, “King’s radicalism had deep roots. The black religious tradition informed him through its history of protest and proclamation.” King’s ways of thinking are considered across his accomplishments and failures in civil rights campaigns including in Montgomery, Selma, and Chicago. Throughout, Harvey stresses King’s unwavering commitment to nonviolence; his political realism, derived in part from his study of Reinhold Niebuhr; and his fundamental economic radicalism. (King first read Karl Marx in 1949 while in seminary.) Harvey also acknowledges King’s “anxiety reduction” practices of drinking and sexual dalliance (which the FBI surveilled obsessively). Importantly, Harvey takes on in an epilogue the “distortions” (or “symbolism [over] substance”) of King’s message in the decades following his 1968 assassination. This careful and of-the-moment examination of King’s fundamentally religious worldview should take a prominent place on the shelf of literature about the man who changed 20th century America. (Nov.)