New Book Dissects Martin Luther King Jr.'s Sermons

'King Came Preaching' is a meticulous examination of MLK's powerful speeches from the pulpit.

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Warren writes: "Here was a man who spoke and served from principleshammered out primarily from family, the Bible and theologicalunderpinnings. All of his responses to my questions bore indelible marksof a conscious fulfillment of the understanding of God's law of loveincumbent on his life--love of God and love of his fellow human beings--and he could do none other, come what might."

Warren interviewed numerous King associates and biographers andconsulted some of the hundreds of books and thousands of newspaper andmagazine articles about King. (The book lists 10 pages of footnotes.)

The result is a painstakingly researched book that examines commonnotions about King's sermons. The book includes some little-known facts,including this one: By the time King turned 13, he had tried to commitsuicide twice -- both times in the wake of traumatic events involvinghis grandmother, first a serious accident and later her death.

Another observation deals with King's decision to enter the ministryafter considering becoming a doctor and then a lawyer. He wrestled withhis conscience and his soul.

When Time magazine selected him as the 1964 "Man of the Year" (thesame year he won the Nobel Peace Prize), King told a reporter: "I haddoubts that religion was intellectually respectable. I revolted againstthe emotionalism of Negro religion, the shouting and the stamping. Ididn't understand it and it embarrassed me."

There are four ways to deliver sermons, according to scholars whostudy them: extemporaneous, reading a manuscript, memorization andimpromptu (given off-the-cuff).

King preferred extemporaneous speeches, often using the same subjectmatter and many references, but always varying the content. Warrenquotes King as saying he preferred to write out his sermons, makingnumerous revisions. But when he stepped to the pulpit, King generallyused only notes or an outline, never a prepared text from which he read.This approach made his sermons more spontaneous, Warren observes.Writing out the sermon helped him familiarize himself with his ideas,pushed him to select just the right language, and helped him organizethe material.

King told Warren during their interview, "Occasionally, I read apolicy speech or an address for civil rights, but I never read a sermon.Without a manuscript, I can communicate better with an audience.Furthermore, I have greater rapport and power when I am able to look theaudience in the eye."

Though King asked Warren to send him a copy of the dissertationafter it was completed, he was killed before Warren could comply. Yearslater, at the invitation of Coretta Scott King, King's widow, Warrenpresented copies of his work to her, and they now are part of the Kingcollection at the Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta.

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