I just recently read THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (1988), edited by Clayborne Carson. In it Carson has put together in roughly chronological order autobiographical passages by Dr. King from numerous sources. I was pleasantly surprised by just how readable this admittedly composite autobiography is. I was also pleased to read King's own account of various events in his life, including his education and his intellectual struggles.
Next, I read Troy Jackson's BECOMING KING: MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. AND THE MAKING OF A NATIONAL LEADER (2008), which includes a ten-page introduction by Clayborne Carson. Since 1985, Dr. Carson has served as the senior editor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University. Jackson has used those King papers extensively in his book.
Carson begins his introduction by asking us to imagine that King had not accepted the invitation to become the minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery. Had King not become the minister there, he probably would not have become famous as a civil rights leader. Up to the juncture in his life when he preached at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, as Jackson shows, King had honed and developed his preaching skills, and had embraced the social gospel, but he had not yet embraced non-violent civic protest, as he did later in his life.
As a young undergraduate (from the age of fifteen to nineteen) at Morehouse College in Atlanta, his hometown, he had heard the president of Morehouse, Benjamin Mays, speak admiringly of Gandhi, Jackson reports. Gandhi's approach to non-violent civic protest is not incompatible with the social gospel. But figuratively speaking, Gandhi was in one compartment of King's mind, and the social gospel was in another when King became a minister in Montgomery.
Jackson devotes most of his book to discussing Montgomery. Long before King became a minister in Montgomery, members of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church had been active in civic protests. Without knowing what was going to emerge in Montgomery, King arrived there at a crucial time. He was able to participate in the Montgomery bus boycott. Because he was better educated and more articulate than anybody else involved in the bus boycott, he emerged as a leader and spokesperson. His role as the public spokesperson during the lengthy bus boycott catapulted him to national attention, leading to invitations to speak in different parts of the country.
Had King not moved to Montgomery, he would not have emerged as a leader and spokesperson for the bus boycott there and would not have been catapulted to national attention at that time. However, regardless of whatever contributions he may have made to developments in the Montgomery bus boycott, the primary responsibility for the lengthy bus boycott there should be credited to local people, Jackson claims.