While the surviving children of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King continue to squabble over the management of their parents' estates, on one issue they are agreed: the need to preserve their father's legacy for a new generation. To accomplish that, Writer's House agent Michele Rubin, the literary agent for Dr. King's estate, brokered a deal with the 155-year-old independent publisher Beacon Press, making it the exclusive trade publisher for Martin Luther King's books. Both his books and collections of his speeches and other writings will be published in a new King Legacy series, which launches on the anniversary of Dr. King's birthday in January with his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, and his last, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? which was originally published by Beacon in 1968. Academic projects like the University of California Press's multivolume collection of Dr. King's papers will not be affected by the Beacon deal, and some other MLK licenses remain active. In addition to republishing Dr. King's existing works, the series will develop new books from the King archive.

“We think this is the right place for Dr. King. Our mission is about social and economic justice, peace, and human rights,” said Beacon executive editor Gayatri Patnaik, who is looking to release as many as 15 to 20 books in the series over the course of the next decade. Beacon's parent organization, the Unitarian Universalist Association, had deep connections to MLK, added Tom Hallock, associate publisher and director of sales and marketing. UUA members answered his call in 1965 for religious leaders to come to Alabama, where two were murdered, and in 1966 Dr. King addressed the UUA General Assembly.

For Rubin, Beacon's roots in social justice, which go back to its earliest days publishing abolitionist pamphlets, were key to the decision to sign with Beacon. So, too, is the publisher's ability to develop new books and to market King's writings through a variety of channels: trade, academic, school and library, and religious. More importantly, she noted, “They're not treating the material like history.”

As Beacon moves forward with the series, it is looking to get people to read or reread Dr. King so that they can see that his writings on racial justice, peace, nonviolence, and jobs are just as relevant today as when they were originally released. Patnaik, for example, compares Stride Toward Freedom, written in 1958 when Dr. King was 28 years old about the Montgomery bus boycott, to the early writings of Barack Obama, before it was clear what role either would play on the national or world stage.

For the series, Beacon is redesigning all the previously published books with updated photographs, and repackaging them with new introductions by a variety of scholars, ranging from Clayborne Carson, director of the King Papers Project and a contributing editor to the series, to King colleague Vincent Harding, who worked with Coretta Scott King to establish the King Center in Atlanta. According to Patnaik, Beacon will release between two and four books a year in a variety of formats, including e-books. In fall '10, it will publish a gift edition of Trumpet of Conscience, which collects five lectures he gave six months before his death. The book will be accompanied by the original recordings of two lectures, including his “A Christmas Sermon on Peace.” Other upcoming books, like All Labor Has Dignity, edited by historian Michael K. Honey, are created from the King archives. In this case, the book will trace Dr. King's economic vision from speeches to unions in the 1960s, culminating with his “Mountaintop” speech in Memphis in support of striking black sanitation workers.