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Becoming KingBecoming King

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader

Troy Jackson

Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award

Narrated by

Available from Audible


Book published by University Press of Kentucky


Without question, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the face of the civil rights revolution that reshaped the social and political landscape of the United States. Although many biographers and historians have examined Dr. King’s activism, few have recognized the pivotal role that the people of Montgomery, Alabama, played in preparing him for leadership. King arrived in Montgomery as a virtually unknown doctoral student, but his activities there—from organizing the Montgomery bus boycott to building relationships with local activists such as Rufus Lewis, E. D. Nixon, and Virginia Durr—established him as the movement’s most visible leader. Becoming King: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Making of a National Leader illustrates how the people of Montgomery influenced King as much as he influenced them. In Montgomery, brave citizens, both black and white, spearheaded a protest movement that also launched King’s public ministry. Author Troy Jackson demonstrates that spending his formative years in the city of Montgomery gave King the skills and experience to become a hero to generations of Americans.

In Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader, author Troy Jackson chronicles King’s emergence and effectiveness as a civil rights leader by examining his relationship with the people of Montgomery, Alabama. Using the sharp lens of Montgomery’s struggle for racial equality to investigate King’s burgeoning leadership, Jackson explores King’s ability to connect with the educated and the unlettered, professionals and the working class. In particular, Jackson highlights King’s alliances with Jo Ann Robinson, a young English professor at Alabama State University; E. D. Nixon, a middle-aged Pullman porter and head of the local NAACP chapter; and Virginia Durr, a courageous white woman who bailed Rosa Parks out of jail after Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white person. Jackson offers nuanced portrayals of King’s relationships with these and other civil rights leaders in the community to illustrate King’s development within the community. Drawing on countless interviews and archival sources, Jackson compares King’s sermons and religious writings before, during, and after the Montgomery bus boycott. Jackson demonstrates how King’s voice and message evolved during his time in Montgomery, reflecting the shared struggles, challenges, experiences, and hopes of the people with whom he worked. Many studies of the civil rights movement end analyses of Montgomery’s struggle with the conclusion of the bus boycott and the establishment of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Jackson surveys King’s uneasy post-boycott relations with E. D. Nixon and Rosa Parks, shedding new light on Parks’s plight in Montgomery after the boycott and revealing the internal discord that threatened the movement’s hard-won momentum. The controversies within the Montgomery Improvement Association compelled King to position himself as a national figure who could rise above the quarrels within the movement and focus on attaining its greater goals. Though the Montgomery struggle thrust King into the national spotlight, the local impact on the lives of blacks from all socioeconomic classes was minimal at the time. As the citizens of Montgomery awaited permanent change, King left the city, taking the lessons he learned there onto the national stage. In the crucible of Montgomery, Martin Luther King Jr. was transformed from an inexperienced Baptist preacher into a civil rights leader of profound national importance.

Troy Jackson is an editor of The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr., Volume VI: Advocate of the Social Gospel, September 1948–March 1963.




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University Press Audiobooks