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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.--SPIRIT-LED PROPHET: a Biography by Richard Deats ($9.95, 160 pages, paper, New City Press; ISBN: 156548097X)

While there are many biographies of Martin Luther King, each looks at him from a particular perspective. Some of the perspectives miss essential points about King, who was first and foremost a minister of the Gospel. This is the perspective from which Deats writes about him. This is not a detailed biography, with every possible fact about King's life presented, no matter how insignificant. Readers looking for a detailed biography and fuller account of King’s theology should consult David J. Garrow's Bearing the Cross or Stephen B. Oates's Let the Trumpet Sound.

Deats examines the spiritual values behind King's actions. He argues, rightly, that King's thought harmonized with both the Jewish and Christian heritage and the democratic heritage of liberty and justice for all under God, and that it was this dual heritage that gave life to the civil rights movement. He emphasizes the reasons why King was killed, and not just the details surrounding his death. King was, for Deats, a man with a God-given destiny, who spent his life in discovering and following that destiny.

A graduate of Boston University School of Theology a few years after King, and editor of Fellowship magazine and veteran organizer for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Deats brings to the biography the perspective of a committed practitioner of non-violence. He examines "the life and thought of Dr. King, particularly those beliefs that shaped who he was, that sustained him, that gave his life meaning, and that moved this spirit-led prophet to discover and fulfill his destiny, whatever the cost" (Introduction).

Deatas presents King as a son of the Black Church, influenced by Black theology and by the old spirituals. He traces the development of King's thought until it found as its concerns racism, materialism, and militarism. He considers King's reading, especially his critical reading of the Bible, and his reading of Gandhi, who greatly influence his thoughts on nonviolence. Deats illustrates his points with frequent quotations from King's own works.

At the end, he calls for a reopening of the James Earl Ray case, a reopening that recently took place.

Though not as detailed as other biographies, this one concentrates on the essence in King's thought and spirituality. Deats understands King in a way that only a fellow theologian and peace activist can, and emphasizes the need to see King as first and foremost a theologian and minister. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.--SPIRIT-LED PROPHET is good introduction to King’s vision, ministry and the spiritual supports to his life work.

The Call to and Preparation for Ministry
Son of the Black Church
The Providential Choice of Montgomery
The Kitchen Prayer: Assurance out of Anguish
The Way of Nonviolence
Beyond Montgomery
The Sit-ins and the Freedom Rides
The Birmingham Campaign
On the National Stage
Marching from Selma to Montgomery
Carrying the Movement North
White Backlash, Black Power and the War in Vietnam
The Humor of Martin King
A Revolution of Values: The Triple Evils Confronted
The Beloved Community
The Poor People's Campaign
Memphis: The Final Campaign
The World Grieves Its Fallen Prophet
Selected Bibliography

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