Best Of: A Revelatory Tour of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Forgotten Teachings
It’s hard to think of a more celebrated figure of the 20th century than Martin Luther King Jr.
He has a national memorial in Washington, D.C. His birthday is one of just 11 federal holidays. His words and legacy are routinely evoked by politicians of both major parties. I would go as far as to say he should be considered one of America’s founding fathers, which is one reason why I wanted to revisit this episode on Independence Day.
But the paradox of King’s legacy is that while many revere him, very few actually read him. Most of us can cite a handful of his most famous quotes, but King’s actual teachings span five books, countless speeches and sermons, and years of detailed correspondence.
There’s perhaps no scholar working today who studies Dr. King’s political philosophy as deeply as Brandon Terry. Terry is the John L. Loeb associate professor of social sciences at Harvard, where he specializes in Black political thought. He is the co-editor of “To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” the editor of “Fifty Years Since MLK,” and the author of numerous popular and academic articles on King’s political thought. His work is committed to rescuing the nuances of Dr. King’s philosophies and forcing a confrontation with what King actually said and believed, rather than what he’s come to represent.
In this conversation, taped in January, we follow the commitment that animates much of Terry’s work: to take King seriously as a philosopher, rather than as purely a political actor. And it turns out that King understood a lot about politics that we’ve lost sight of today.
We’re taping an “Ask Me Anything” episode soon. If you have a question for Ezra, send it to email@example.com with the subject line, “AMA.”
“Imagining the nonviolent state” by Ezra Klein
“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” by Martin Luther King Jr.
From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime by Elizabeth Hinton
“Rethinking the Problem of Alliance: Organized Labor and Black Political Life” by Brandon M. Terry and Jason Lee
The Truly Disadvantaged by William Julius Wilson
Where Do We Go From Here by Martin Luther King Jr.
The Trumpet of Conscience by Martin Luther King Jr.
The Sword and the Shield by Peniel E. Joseph
A More Beautiful and Terrible History by Jeanne Theoharis
Dark Ghettos by Tommie Shelby
Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at https://www.nytimes.com/article/ezra-klein-show-book-recs.
This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Emefa Agawu, Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld, Rogé Karma and Kristin Lin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris, Kate Sinclair, Mary Marge Locker and Rollin Hu. Original music by Isaac Jones. Mixing by Jeff Geld. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Sonia Herrero.