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The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume I: Called to Serve, January 1929-June 1951

Cover of Volume 1.
Clayborne Carson, Ralph Luker, and Penny A. Russell, eds.
University of California Press at Berkeley and Los Angeles

Volume I begins with the childhood letters Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote to his mother and father. A series of letters written while he was working at a summer job on a tobacco farm in Connecticut reveal his initial impressions of life outside the segregated South. A few years later King would refer to this time as a crucial period in his religious evolution when he "felt and inescapable urge to serve society... in a sense of responsibility which I could not escape."

As a teenager at Morehouse College, the young King initially planned to become a lawyer or physician rather than become a minister like his father. Greatly affected by the influence of Morehouse College's president Benjamin E. Mays, King described his studies at Morehouse as "very exciting". He persistently questioned literal interpretations of biblical texts and criticized traditional Baptist teachings. But by his senior year, he decided to follow his father's "noble example" into the ministry. King's continuing struggle to resolve his religious doubts is revealed in the essays and examinations written while he was at Crozer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. The intensity of his search for a sense of theological certainty and the depth of his deliberations regarding his ultimate decision to accept his religious calling are clearly revealed. By the time he left Crozer, he had found new value in his early religious experiences and had reached enduring conclusions about his own faith.