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10 Books to Understand Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy in 2021

Over five decades after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, American society is still working towards the dream that he envisioned. These ten essential books shed light on these decades after Dr. King’s life, the Civil Rights movement, and show how his legacy has shaped the past half-century. Learn from the experiences of activists, lawyers, and journalists about the ongoing and necessary work towards racial equality.

  1. 1
    Begin Again Book Cover Picture
    Begin Again Book Cover Picture

    Begin Again

    by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

    Mixing biography–drawn partially from newly uncovered interviews–with history, memoir, and trenchant analysis of our current moment, Begin Again is Glaude’s attempt, following Baldwin, to bear witness to the difficult truth of race in America today. It is at once a searing exploration that lays bare the tangled web of race, trauma, and memory, and a powerful interrogation of what we all must ask of ourselves in order to call forth a new America.
    Begin Again Book Cover Picture
    Begin Again Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $27.00

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  2. 2
    The Nickel Boys Book Cover Picture
    The Nickel Boys Book Cover Picture

    The Nickel Boys

    by Colson Whitehead

    As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” For a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, which is a grotesque chamber of horrors. Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” The tension between Elwood’s ideals and his friend’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.
    The Nickel Boys Book Cover Picture
    The Nickel Boys Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $15.95

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  3. 3
    The Source of Self-Regard Book Cover Picture
    The Source of Self-Regard Book Cover Picture

    The Source of Self-Regard

    by Toni Morrison

    Here is Toni Morrison in her own words: a rich gathering of her most important essays and speeches, spanning four decades. These pages give us her searing prayer for the dead of 9/11, her Nobel lecture on the power of language, her searching meditation on Martin Luther King Jr., her heart-wrenching eulogy for James Baldwin. She looks deeply into the fault lines of culture and freedom: the foreigner, female empowerment, the press, money, “black matter(s),” human rights, the artist in society, the Afro-American presence in American literature.
    The Source of Self-Regard Book Cover Picture
    The Source of Self-Regard Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.95

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  4. 4
    Between the World and Me Book Cover Picture
    Between the World and Me Book Cover Picture

    Between the World and Me

    by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
    Between the World and Me Book Cover Picture
    Between the World and Me Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $26.00

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  5. 5
    The Inner Work of Racial Justice Book Cover Picture
    The Inner Work of Racial Justice Book Cover Picture

    The Inner Work of Racial Justice

    by Rhonda V. Magee

    In a society where unconscious bias, microaggressions, institutionalized racism, and systemic injustices are so deeply ingrained, healing is an ongoing process. As Sharon Salzberg, New York Times-bestselling author of Real Happiness writes, “Rhonda Magee is a significant new voice I’ve wanted to hear for a long time—a voice both unabashedly powerful and deeply loving in looking at race and racism.” Magee shows that embodied mindfulness calms our fears and helps us to exercise self-compassion.
    The Inner Work of Racial Justice Book Cover Picture
    The Inner Work of Racial Justice Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $27.00

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  6. 6
    Black Is the Body Book Cover Picture
    Black Is the Body Book Cover Picture

    Black Is the Body

    by Emily Bernard

    In these twelve deeply personal, connected essays, Bernard details the experience of growing up black in the south with a family name inherited from a white man, surviving a random stabbing at a New Haven coffee shop, marrying a white man from the North and bringing him home to her family, adopting two children from Ethiopia, and living and teaching in a primarily white New England college town. Each of these essays sets out to discover a new way of talking about race and of telling the truth as the author has lived it.
    Black Is the Body Book Cover Picture
    Black Is the Body Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.00

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  7. 7
    Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition) Book Cover Picture
    Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition) Book Cover Picture

    Just Mercy

    by Bryan Stevenson

    Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
    Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition) Book Cover Picture
    Just Mercy (Movie Tie-In Edition) Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $17.00

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  8. 8
    The Fire Next Time Book Cover Picture
    The Fire Next Time Book Cover Picture

    The Fire Next Time

    by James Baldwin

    At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document from the iconic author of If Beale Street Could Talk and Go Tell It on the Mountain. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. Described by The New York Times Book Review as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose,” The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of literature.
    The Fire Next Time Book Cover Picture
    The Fire Next Time Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $13.95

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  9. 9
    Stony the Road Book Cover Picture
    Stony the Road Book Cover Picture

    Stony the Road

    by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

    The abolition of slavery in the aftermath of the Civil War is a familiar story, as is the civil rights revolution that transformed the nation after World War II. But the century in between remains a mystery: if emancipation sparked “a new birth of freedom” in Lincoln’s America, why was it necessary to march in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s America? In this new book, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. seeks to answer that question in a history that moves from the Reconstruction Era to the “nadir” of the African-American experience under Jim Crow, through to World War I and the Harlem Renaissance.
    Stony the Road Book Cover Picture
    Stony the Road Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $20.00

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  10. 10
    His Truth Is Marching On Book Cover Picture
    His Truth Is Marching On Book Cover Picture

    His Truth Is Marching On

    by Jon Meacham

    John Lewis, who at age twenty-five marched in Selma, Alabama, and was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, was a visionary and a man of faith. Drawing on decades of wide-ranging interviews with Lewis, Jon Meacham writes of how this great-grandson of a slave and son of an Alabama tenant farmer was inspired by the Bible and his teachers in nonviolence, Reverend James Lawson and Martin Luther King, Jr., to put his life on the line in the service of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” From an early age, Lewis learned that nonviolence was not only a tactic but a philosophy, a biblical imperative, and a transforming reality. At the age of four, Lewis, ambitious to become a minister, practiced by preaching to his family’s chickens. When his mother cooked one of the chickens, the boy refused to eat it—his first act, he wryly recalled, of nonviolent protest. Integral to Lewis’s commitment to bettering the nation was his faith in humanity and in God—and an unshakable belief in the power of hope.
    His Truth Is Marching On Book Cover Picture
    His Truth Is Marching On Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $30.00

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