By: Amy Chen, CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. planned to write Strength to Love (1963), a collection of sermons, as early as 1957, but he was unable to begin writing until he was imprisoned in July 1962 after holding a vigil outside Albany City Hall. Despite the conditions he faced while incarcerated, Dr. King wrote three sermons during this time: “Love in Action,” “Loving Your Enemies,” and “Shattered Dreams.” Later, he would add sermons that would become some of his best-known works, including “What is Man?” and “Paul’s Letter to American Christians.”
In his preface, King writes “we live in a day of grave crisis”; therefore, each sermon included in the book must “deal with the personal and collective problems that the crisis presents” (11). In “Transformed nonconformist,” King discusses that “we as Christians have a mandate to be nonconformists” as citizens of what Paul called the “colony of heaven” (21-2). King then warns his readers of “soft-mindedness” in “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” counseling the need to reject superstition, turn away from easy anti-intellectualism, and embrace change rather than remaining committed to faulty traditions. He points his finger at the church, which he sees as too often “rejecting new truth with a dogmatic passion,” yet encourages compassion and love as a way to emulate Jesus and pursue a Christian life (TS 3). Although King speaks persuasively of reconciliation, many of his most pointed statements critiquing segregation, racism, and colonialism as well as capitalism and militarism were cut from the typescript, which has been digitized and is now available through The King Center.
Strength to Love is a landmark text within Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s canon of writings. As the first book of sermons by an African American that became widely read by a white audience, this powerful book seeks to unite “former slaves” and “former slave owners” in a “beloved community.” See a signed copy of this book on display in the Peace Foyer as part of the exhibition “From a Love of History: Exploring the A.S. Williams III Americana Collection,” curated by Stephen Rowe and Amy Chen.