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The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume VI: Advocate of the Social Gospel, September 1948 – March 1963

Cover of Volume 6.
Clayborne Carson, Susan Carson, Susan Englander, Troy Jackson, and Gerald L. Smith, eds.
University of California Press at Berkeley and Los Angeles

Devoted to documenting the life of one of America's best-known advocates for peace and justice, Advocate of the Social Gospel, Volume VI of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., breaks the chronology of the planned fourteen-volume edition. This groundbreaking work provides a unique look at King's never-before-published early sermons, drawn from a private file of materials King kept in his study and used to prepare his homilies. In 1997, Coretta Scott King granted the King Papers senior editorial staff permission to examine papers stored in the basement of the King family home. A battered cardboard box held a trove of sermon notes, outlines, and full sermon texts from the years up to and including King's involvement in the Montgomery bus boycott in 1956, a period for which few of King's religious writings had been available previously.

In this volume, the reader can compare King's early handwritten sermon notes and sermon texts with later versions of his homilies, including transcriptions of audio recordings of famous King sermons, such as "Paul's Letter to American Christians" and "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life." These transcriptions, which contain responses by enthusiastic congregation members, show King at the height of his oratorical power and provide a basis for comparison between his sermon drafts and delivered sermons. The volume also contrasts the manuscripts that King originally submitted for his well-known 1963 book of sermons, Strength to Love, with the published versions, toned down in order to be palatable to a broader audience.

Collectively, these documents shed considerable light on the preaching and theological preparation of one of America's most prominent religious leaders. They reveal that King's concern about poverty, human rights, and social justice is clearly present in his earliest handwritten sermons, which convey a message of faith, hope, and love for the dispossessed. His enduring message can be charted through his years as a seminary student, as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist church, as a leader of the Montgomery bus boycott, and, ultimately, as an internationally renowned proponent of human rights who saw himself fundamentally as an "advocate of the social gospel."

This volume is dedicated to the memory of Coretta Scott King.

© The Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr.