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5 Must-Read Books in Honor of MLK Day

Today, we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his campaign of nonviolent activism during the Civil Rights Movement. Many use the day to participate in the MLK Day of Service that challenges Americans to transform the holiday into a day of action where citizens volunteer in their communities in honor of Dr. King. As a self-proclaimed book nerd, I am using this day to share some great books to read on MLK Day and any day you want to learn more about Black American history and culture. 

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear Martin by Nic Stone Book Cover

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set to attend an Ivy League school, but none of that matters to the police officer placing Justyce in handcuffs. For the answers to his many questions, Justyce turns to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but do those teachings even hold up in today’s society? To find out, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. King.

Democracy in Black: How Race Still  Enslaves The American Soul by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. 

America’s promise of equality, liberty, and justice for all has always rang hollow in the ears of its Black citizens. The situation grows more dire with the continued murder of Black people by police, the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the decimation of poor and middle-class Black families during The Great Recession. Although it is clear Black America is facing a crisis, the election of the first Black president prompted many to believe America’s race problem had been solved. In Democracy in Black, Glaude provides part manifesto, part memoir, and part history to argue America’s founding was based on White lives being more valuable than others. That “value gap” continues to distort culture and politics today. 

March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, Illustrated by Nate Powell

March Book One by John Lewis Book Cover

Decades before John Lewis became the representative of Georgia’s fifth district, he was a key member of the American Civil Rights Movement. In fact, prior to his death in July 2020, John Lewis was the last surviving speaker from the March on Washington. March is a graphic novel trilogy documenting the pivotal moments of Lewis’ life that took him from an Alabama sharecropping farm to the halls of Congress. 

Book One spans from John Lewis’ childhood in rural Alabama to his life-altering meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. along with the birth of the Nashville Student Movement that culminates in a monumental climax at the steps of City Hall. Book Two follows the success of the Nashville sit-in campaign and Lewis’ growing commitment to the Freedom Riders. Being elected as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee thrusts Lewis into the national spotlight as a key figure in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The story concludes in Book Three as a 25-year-old John Lewis prepares for an historic showdown in a town called Selma.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion for civil rights from the 1950s until her death in 1977. Voice of Freedom infuses Hamer’s own words into powerful poems along with beautiful collages of illustrations to provide Fannie Lou Hamer’s life story from growing up in a sharecropping community to running for Mississippi State Senate. Although written for young readers, everyone will be moved by this celebration of Hamer’s life and the book’s message of strength, hope, and perseverance. 

Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King Jr.

Where Do We Go From Here by Martin Luther King Jr Book Cover

In his fourth book and the last book before his assasination, King reflects upon the American Civil Rights Movement. Although victory and freedom was won in the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, King argues there is still work to be done in the fight for equality and to end poverty. As one of the tenets to achieve this goal, King proposed the United States have guaranteed income for its citizens. Along with that prophetic proposal, Dr. King waxes poetically about the Vietnam War, the Black Power Movement, and the moderate White American.

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