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Books for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by learning more about the man and his mission!

January 12, 2021

Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by learning more about the man and his mission!

An American Baptist minister and activist, Martin Luther King Jr. was the most visible leader in the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. He is known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience. King participated in and led marches in support of the right to vote, desegregation, labor rights, and other basic civil rights. He delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington.

King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In his final years, he expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty, capitalism, and the Vietnam War.

Dr. King was born January 15, 1929. He would have been 91 this year—the same age as journalist Barbara Walters and actor Bob Newhart.

Learn more with World Book or Wikipedia.

In this list:

  • History and biography
  • Race and civil rights today
  • Children’s books

 

History and Biography

At Canaan's Edge

At Canaan’s Edge
America In the King Years, 1965-68

Taylor Branch

In At Canaan’s Edge, King and his movement stand at the zenith of America’s defining story, one decade into an epic struggle for the promises of democracy.

At Canaan’s Edge portrays King at the height of his moral power even as his worldly power is waning. It shows why his fidelity to freedom and nonviolence makes him a defining figure long beyond his brilliant life and violent end.

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Written in his own words, this history-making autobiography is Martin Luther King: the mild-mannered, inquisitive child and student who chafed under and eventually rebelled against segregation; the dedicated young minister who continually questioned the depths of his faith and the limits of his wisdom; the loving husband and father who sought to balance his family’s needs with those of a growing, nationwide movement; and the reflective, world-famous leader who was fired by a vision of equality for people everywhere.

Hellhound on His Trail

Hellhound on His Trail
The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. And the International Hunt for His Assassin

Hampton Sides

The story of two very different men whose lives catastrophically interweaved over the course of some nine months in the late 1960s: one was a thief and con man called James Earl Ray, the other one of the greatest American figures of the twentieth century, Martin Luther King Jr. Hampton Sides follows in Ray’s footsteps as he escapes from prison; drifts through the South, into Mexico, and then Los Angeles, where he is galvanized by George Wallace’s racist presidential campaign; and becomes convinced of his mission to kill King.

Drawing on previously unpublished material, this nonfiction thriller illuminates how history is so often a matter of the petty bringing down the great.

I May Not Get There with You

I May Not Get There with You
The True Martin Luther King, Jr.

Michael Eric Dyson

Where is Martin Luther King, Jr. when we need him? So much has changed since the glory days of the civil rights movement—and so much has stayed the same.

Michael Eric Dyson helps us find the answer in our recent past, by resurrecting the true Martin Luther King, Jr. A private citizen who transformed the world around him, King was arguably the greatest American who ever lived. Yet, as Dyson so poignantly reveals, Martin Luther King, Jr. has disappeared in plain sight. Despite the federal holiday, the postage stamps, and the required reference in history textbooks, King’s vitality and complexity have faded from view.

Unafraid to confront King’s personal life, determined to defend King from the sanitizing forces of historical amnesia, Michael Eric Dyson challenges us to embrace the man who said, prophetically, on the eve of his death, “I May Not Get There With You,” and to make him our partner in our ongoing struggle to get to the Promised Land.

Kennedy And King

Kennedy And King
The President, the Pastor, and the Battle Over Civil Rights

Steven Levingston

Kennedy and King traces the emergence of two of the twentieth century’s greatest leaders, their powerful impact on each other and on the shape of the civil rights battle between 1960 and 1963.

These two men from starkly different worlds profoundly influenced each other’s personal development. Kennedy’s hesitation on civil rights spurred King to greater acts of courage, and King inspired Kennedy to finally make a moral commitment to equality. As America still grapples with the legacy of slavery and the persistence of discrimination, Kennedy and King is a vital, vivid contribution to the literature of the Civil Rights Movement.

Killing King

Killing King
Racial Terrorists, James Earl Ray, and the Plot to Assassinate Martin Luther King Jr.

Stuart Wexler And Larry Hancock

Published in time for the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Killing King uncovers previously unknown FBI files and sources, as well as new forensics to convincingly make the case that King was assassinated by a long-simmering conspiracy orchestrated by the racial terrorists who were responsible for the Mississippi Burning murders.

Thoroughly researched and impeccably documented, the book reveals a network of racist militants led by Sam Bowers, head of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, who were dedicated to the cause of killing King.

The King Years

The King Years
Historic Moments in The Civil Rights Movement

Taylor Branch

The King Years delivers riveting tales of everyday heroes who achieved miracles in constructive purpose and yet poignantly fell short. Here is the full sweep of an era that still reverberates in national politics. Its legacy remains unsettled; there are further lessons to be discovered before free citizens can once again move officials to address the most intractable, fearful dilemmas. This vital primer amply fulfills its author’s dedication: “For students of freedom and teachers of history.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., Encyclopedia

Martin Luther King, Jr., Encyclopedia

Clayborne Carson

As editor of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Clayborne Carson, with the assistance of his staff at Stanford’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, had access to a variety of documents relating to all aspects of Dr. King’s life and career. The encyclopedia provides readers with over 280 entries that offer fresh and engaging insights into Dr. King and the civil rights movement. From their unique familiarity with these materials, they have compiled an encyclopedia offering a fresh and exciting look at the work of Dr. King and the course of the civil rights movement.

My Life, My Love, My Legacy

My Life, My Love, My Legacy

Coretta Scott King

Born to daringly enterprising parents in the Deep South, Coretta Scott had always felt called to a special purpose. While enrolled as one of the first black scholarship students recruited to Antioch College, she became politically and socially active and committed to the peace movement. She met Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister insistent that his wife stay home with the children. But in love and devoted to shared beliefs, she married Dr. King, and events promptly thrust her into a maelstrom of history throughout which she was a strategic partner, a standard bearer, and so much more.

As a widow and single mother of four, she worked tirelessly to found and develop The King Center, lobbied for fifteen years for the US national holiday in honor of her husband, championed for women’s, workers’ and gay rights and was a powerful international voice for nonviolence, freedom and human dignity.

Coretta’s is a love story, a family saga, and the memoir of an extraordinary black woman in twentieth-century America, a brave leader who, in the face of terrorism and violent hatred, stood committed, proud, forgiving, nonviolent, and hopeful every day of her life.

Pillar of Fire

Pillar of Fire
America In the King Years, 1963-65

Taylor Branch

In Pillar of Fire, the second volume of his America in the King Years trilogy, Taylor Branch portrays the civil rights era at its zenith.

Pillar of Fire covers the far-flung upheavals of the years 1963 to 1965 and provides a frank, revealing portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr.—haunted by blackmail, factionalism, and hatred while he tried to hold the nonviolent movement together as a dramatic force in history. Allies, rivals, and opponents addressed racial issues that went deeper than fair treatment at bus stops or lunch counters. Participants on all sides stretched themselves and their country to the breaking point over the meaning of simple words: dignity, equal votes, equal souls.

The Radical King

The Radical King

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is celebrated as one of the greatest orators in US history, an ambassador for nonviolence who became perhaps the most recognizable leader of the civil rights movement. But after more than forty years, few people appreciate how truly radical he was.

Arranged thematically in four parts, The Radical King includes twenty-three selections that illustrate King’s revolutionary vision, underscoring his identification with the poor, his unapologetic opposition to the Vietnam War, and his crusade against global imperialism.

As West writes, “Although much of America did not know the radical King—and too few know today—the FBI and US government did. They called him ‘the most dangerous man in America.’ This book unearths a radical King that we can no longer sanitize.”

The Sword and The Shield

The Sword and The Shield
The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Peniel E. Joseph

This dual biography of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King upends longstanding preconceptions to transform our understanding of the twentieth century’s most iconic African American leaders.

To most Americans, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. represent contrasting ideals: self-defense vs. nonviolence, black power vs. civil rights, the sword vs. the shield. The struggle for black freedom is wrought with the same contrasts. While nonviolent direct action is remembered as an unassailable part of American democracy, the movement’s militancy is either vilified or erased outright. In The Sword and the Shield, Peniel E. Joseph upends these misconceptions and reveals a nuanced portrait of two men who, despite markedly different backgrounds, inspired and pushed each other throughout their adult lives. This is a strikingly revisionist biography, not only of Malcolm and Martin, but also of the movement and era they came to define.

 

Race and Civil Rights Today

Caste

Caste
The Origins of Our Discontents

Isabel Wilkerson

In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

Beautifully written, original, and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of America life today.

Hood Feminism

Hood Feminism
Notes from The Women That A Movement Forgot

Mikki Kendall

Today’s feminist movement has a glaring blind spot, and paradoxically, it is women. Mainstream feminists rarely talk about meeting basic needs as a feminist issue—but food insecurity, access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues. All too often, however, the focus is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few. Prominent white feminists broadly suffer from their own myopia with regard to how things like race, class, sexual orientation, and ability intersect with gender. How can we stand in solidarity as a movement, Kendall asks, when there is the distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others?

How to Be an Antiracist

How to Be an Antiracist

Ibram X. Kendi

Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.

At its core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.

How to Be Less Stupid About Race

How to Be Less Stupid About Race
On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide

Crystal M. Fleming

How to Be Less Stupid About Race is your essential guide to breaking through the half-truths and ridiculous misconceptions that have thoroughly corrupted the way race is represented in the classroom, pop culture, media, and politics. Centuries after our nation was founded on genocide, settler colonialism, and slavery, many Americans are kinda-sorta-maybe waking up to the reality that our racial politics are (still) garbage. But in the midst of this reckoning, widespread denial and misunderstandings about race persist, even as white supremacy and racial injustice are more visible than ever before.

Just Us

Just Us
An American Conversation

Claudia Rankine

As everyday white supremacy becomes increasingly vocalized with no clear answers at hand, how best might we approach one another? Claudia Rankine, without telling us what to do, urges us to begin the discussions that might open pathways through this divisive and stuck moment in American history.

Just Us is an invitation to discover what it takes to stay in the room together, even and especially in breaching the silence, guilt, and violence that follow direct addresses of whiteness. Rankine’s questions disrupt the false comfort of our culture’s liminal and private spaces—the airport, the theater, the dinner party, the voting booth—where neutrality and politeness live on the surface of differing commitments, beliefs, and prejudices as our public and private lives intersect.

Long Time Coming

Long Time Coming
Reckoning with Race in America

Michael Eric Dyson

The night of May 25, 2020 changed America. George Floyd, a 43-year-old Black man, was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis when a white cop suffocated him. The video of that night’s events went viral, sparking the largest protests in the nation’s history and the sort of social unrest we have not seen since the sixties. While Floyd’s death was certainly the catalyst, it was in truth the fuse that lit an ever-filling powder keg.

Long Time Coming grapples with the cultural and social forces that have shaped our nation in the brutal crucible of race. In five beautifully argued chapters, Dyson traces the genealogy of anti-blackness from the slave ship to the street corner where Floyd lost his life—and where America gained its will to confront the ugly truth of systemic racism. Ending with a poignant plea for hope, Dyson’s exciting new book points the way to social redemption. Long Time Coming is a necessary guide to help America finally reckon with race.

Me and White Supremacy

Me and White Supremacy
Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become A Good Ancestor

Layla F. Saad

When Layla Saad began an Instagram challenge called #meandwhitesupremacy, she never predicted it would become a cultural movement. She encouraged people to own up and share their racist behaviors, big and small. She was looking for truth, and she got it. Thousands of people participated in the challenge, and over 80,000 people downloaded the supporting work Me and White Supremacy.

Updated and expanded from the original edition, Me and White Supremacy teaches readers how to dismantle the privilege within themselves so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in The Age of Colorblindness

Michelle Alexander

In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it.

Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community—and all of us—to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

So You Want To Talk About Race

So You Want To Talk About Race

Ijeoma Oluo

A current, constructive, and actionable exploration of today’s racial landscape, offering straightforward clarity that readers of all races need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divide.

In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo offers a contemporary, accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “N”word. Perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, Oluo answers the questions readers don’t dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.

Oluo is an exceptional writer with a rare ability to be straightforward, funny, and effective in her coverage of sensitive, hyper-charged issues in America. Her messages are passionate but finely tuned, and crystalize ideas that would otherwise be vague by empowering them with aha-moment clarity.

Stony the Road

Stony the Road
Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow

Henry Louis Gates, Jr

The abolition of slavery in the aftermath of the Civil War is a familiar story, as is the civil rights revolution that transformed the nation after World War II. But the century in between remains a mystery: if emancipation came in Lincoln’s America, why was it necessary to march in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s America?

In this new book, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of our leading chroniclers of the African-American experience, seeks to answer that question in a history that moves from the Reconstruction Era to the ‘nadir’ of the African-American experience under Jim Crow, through to World War I and the Harlem Renaissance. Through his close reading of the visual culture of this tragic era, Gates reveals the many faces of Jim Crow and how, together, they reinforced a stark color line between white and black Americans.

Uncomfortable Conversations with A Black Man

Uncomfortable Conversations with A Black Man

Emmanuel Acho

In Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, Acho takes on all the questions, large and small, insensitive and taboo, many white Americans are afraid to ask—yet which all Americans need the answers to, now more than ever. With the same open-hearted generosity that has made his video series a phenomenon, Acho explains the vital core of such fraught concepts as white privilege, cultural appropriation, and ‘reverse racism.’ In his own words, he provides a space of compassion and understanding in a discussion that can lack both.

He asks only for the reader’s curiosity—but along the way, he will galvanize all of us to join the antiracist fight.

 

Children’s Books

Be A King

Be A King
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’S Dream and You

Carole Boston Weatherford

Featuring a dual narrative of the key moments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life alongside a modern class as the students learn about him, poetic text encapsulates the lessons that readers today can apply to their own lives.

Coretta Scott

Coretta Scott

Ntozake Shange

Examines the life of Martin Luther King’s wife, Coretta, who in her own right, was a civil rights pioneer who experienced the injustices of the segregated South and who continued her husband’s mission after his assassination.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King

Jean Marzollo

Celebrating the birthday of the great civil rights leader, an illustrated biography of Martin Luther King offers young readers a moving tribute to King and his important life.

I Am Martin Luther King, Jr.

I Am Martin Luther King, Jr.

Brad Meltzer

The eighth biography in the New York Times best-selling Ordinary People Change the World series features one of America’s greatest civil rights heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and tells the story of his fight for African-American civil rights.

Let the Children March

Let the Children March

Monica Clark-Robinson

Documents the inspirational peaceful protests in 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, combining poetic text and poignant illustrations that celebrate the powerful words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the resolve of thousands of African-American children to march for their civil rights.

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King
The Peaceful Warrior

Ed Clayton

An account of the civil rights leader’s life explores his personal struggles to bring social justice and equality to his people through peaceful means.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Free at Last

David A. Adler

A biography of the Baptist minister who worked unceasingly for his dream of a world without hate, prejudice, or violence, and was assassinated in the attempt

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kitson Jazynka

A Level 2 biography that presents difficult concepts in an accessible manner will teach young readers about the fascinating life and legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Includes a colorful design, educational illustrations, sidebars, timetables, diagrams and fun facts.

Martin Rising

Martin Rising
Requiem for A King

Andrea Davis Pinkney

The award-winning husband-and-wife team present a sumptuously illustrated tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s commitment to non-violent protest in support of civil rights, in a metaphorical and spiritually symbolic poetic requiem that covers King’s final months and assassination.

Martin's Big Words

Martin’s Big Words
The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Doreen Rappaport

A picture book biography introduces the ideas and accomplishments of a gifted and influential speaker by using some of his own words to tell the story.

Martin's Dream Day

Martin’s Dream Day

Kitty Kelley

The best-selling biographer and journalist presents an evocative introduction to the events surrounding the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. and Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop
The Sanitation Strike Of 1968

Alice Faye Duncan

This historical fiction picture book presents the story of 9-year-old Lorraine Jackson, who in 1968 witnessed the Memphis sanitation strike—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final stand for justice before his assassination—when her father, a sanitation worker, participated in the protest.

A Place to Land

A Place to Land
Martin Luther King Jr. And the Speech That Inspired A Nation

Barry Wittenstein

An introduction to Martin Luther King Jr’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech shares the lesser-known story of how it was written and had not been originally intended to coincide with the history-changing 1963 March on Washington. Illustrations.

Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Bonnie Bader

An introduction to the life Martin Luther King, Jr. Including how he organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott and African American people across the country in support of the right to vote, desegregation, and other basic civil rights.