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Top 5 Books to Read for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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Published April 29, 2010 | Updated July 27, 2015

On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed H.R. 3706 into Public Law 98-144, designating the third Monday in January a legal holiday to commemorate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, spoke at the ceremony, noting her husband's "nonviolent campaigns brought about redemption, reconciliation, and justice." Pick a book from this list -- or read them all -- to learn more about this fascinating 20th-century American leader.

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  • Inspiration During Difficult Times

    Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King's letter, written while he was held in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, outlines the philosophy and tactics that would inspire black Americans to keep fighting for social justice. In this book, the letter is combined with the "I Have a Dream" speech. The two works provide a good introduction for adults and teenagers to Dr. King's work.

  • In His Own Words

    Why We Can't Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr. First published in 1964, this is Dr. King's memoir of his and the civil rights movement's protest against racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama during the pivotal year of 1963. It discusses the lessons of the Birmingham situation and offers ideas for continuing the struggle against racial injustice across the nation.

  • Story of a Life

    The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Clayborne Carson. No study of a historical period is complete without biographies of its central personalities. Scholar Clayborne Carson lets Dr. King's own writings, correspondence, and interviews tell the story of his life.

  • Just for Children

    Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport. Introduce elementary-school children to Dr. King's famous speeches with this vibrantly illustrated book. Using King's own words, the author creates a biography of his life that's perfect for teaching kids.

  • An Award-Winning Trilogy

    America in the King Years by Taylor Branch. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, the first book of this acclaimed history of the civil rights movement, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989. The trilogy also features Pillar of Fire 1963-65 and At Canaan's Edge 1965-68.