A revealing collection that restores Dr. King as being every bit as radical as Malcolm X
“The radical King was a democratic socialist who sided with poor and working people in the class struggle taking place in capitalist societies. . . . The response of the radical King to our catastrophic moment can be put in one word: revolution—a revolution in our priorities, a reevaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life, and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens. . . . Could it be that we know so little of the radical King because such courage defies our market-driven world?” —Cornel West, from the Introduction
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, curated and introduced by Dr. Cornel West, 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.”
This selection of King's writings and speeches ably introduces historical neophytes to the great civil rights leader's "radical" side, though readers may feel a disconnect between his empathetic words and the scathing introduction from West (Race Matters). The book does include some of King's most famous writings, such as "I've Been to the Mountaintop" and "Letter from Birmingham Jail," but also lesser-known passages dealing with his opposition to the Vietnam War and concern with American poverty outside as well as within the black community. Throughout, King's skills as a preacher and rhetorician are amply in evidence, as is his profound empathy with others, even after a bombing at King's home that almost killed his wife and child. West, perhaps President Obama's most prominent African-American critic, uses the introduction to assert that "surely" King would not have wanted the first black U.S. president to serve up a "Wall Street presidency, drone presidency, and surveillance presidency with a vanishing black middle class, devastated black working class, and desperate black poor people clinging to fleeting symbols and empty rhetoric." Not everyone will feel that accurately imagining King's attitudes towards President Obama is as straightforward as West would have it; his use of academic terminology, meanwhile, might prove an impediment to the lay reader he is targeting.