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Beacon Press to reissue Martin Luther King Jr.'s books

Exclusive partnership with King’s estate will bring civil rights leader’s writings to a contemporary audience.
By Christopher L. Walton
6.1.09

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Helene Atwan, director of Beacon Press

Helene Atwan, director of Beacon Press, announces "The King Legacy," an exclusive publishing partnership with the estate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., at the UUA headquarters in Boston on May 27. At left is a UUA memorial to civil rights martyrs in Selma, Alabama. (Chris Walton/UU World)

Beacon Press announced May 27 that it had formed a partnership with the estate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to publish new editions of King’s work in a series called “The King Legacy.”

The partnership gives Beacon Press the exclusive right to publish new editions of King’s previously published work and to issue new compilations of his sermons, lectures, and other writings, according to Beacon Press’s Pamela MacColl.

In a press release, Helene Atwan, director of Beacon Press, said, “We feel enormously privileged to be the new publishers of Dr. King’s work. His vision and his message are more essential than ever in a world where, despite great gains, the global aspects of the radical inequities Dr. King devoted his life to exposing and addressing are all too apparent.”

Beacon Press will issue new editions of three of King’s out-of-print titles to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2010: Stride Toward Freedom, first published in 1958; Strength to Love, first published in 1963; and Where Do We Go from Here?, which Beacon Press published in paperback in 1968.

“After that, many new volumes will follow,” Atwan said at an event announcing the project at Unitarian Universalist Association headquarters in Boston on May 27: “Books that will collect Dr. King’s writings and orations on the subjects of peace and nonviolence, on poverty and global economic justice, on God and the role of religion in society, on all of the subjects which were so central to his work. And in issuing these new volumes, we hope to keep the message fresh and accessible for new generations, so that they, too, can learn from walking in his path.”

The King Legacy plans to issue two or three new volumes a year. Clayborne Carson, the director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, will serve as advisory editor to the series and will write a new introduction for Strive Toward Freedom.

Beacon Press is an independent publisher owned by the Unitarian Universalist Association. The press originated as the publishing arm of the American Unitarian Association, one of the UUA’s predecessors, in the 1850s and has published significant titles on American race relations throughout its history, including King’s Where Do We Go from Here?, James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, and Cornel West’s Race Matters.

Dexter Scott King, one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s sons, said in a statement read by a literary agent representing the King estate, “Beacon Press is one of America’s most courageous and visionary publishers, and there is every reason to believe that they will do an outstanding job publishing his works and distributing them to the largest possible audience.”

UUA President William G. Sinkford said, “The partnership between our Beacon Press and the King estate, which we celebrate today, calls up some of the proudest moments of our history and some of our most profound commitments. Dr. King’s life and his transformative work for justice are deeply embedded in our history and our understanding of ourselves as a religious people.”

Speaking in Eliot Chapel at the UUA headquarters, Sinkford pointed to a memorial to three civil rights martyrs from the 1965 Selma, Ala., voting rights campaign. A Unitarian Universalist minister, the Rev. James Reeb, and a UU laywoman, Viola Liuzzo, were killed after coming to Selma to join a voting rights march at King’s invitation. President Lyndon B. Johnson invoked Reeb’s death when he called on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act.

In 1966, the UUA invited King to deliver the Ware Lecture, the keynote address at its General Assembly. Sinkford, who was a teenager at the time, said he met King in an elevator at that General Assembly. “All I can remember was that I simply asked to shake his hand.”

“I remember the words he spoke that night so well,” Sinkford said. “When the church is doing its job, he said, it serves as a moral beacon for society, a moral beacon that holds up the vision of the beloved community and calls us to make that vision a reality. He told that gathering that there was a revolution that was taking place, a revolution that was answering the call of justice, and he urged us, he implored us, not to sleep through the revolution.”

The UUA will begin raising additional funds in the fall of 2009 to support the King Legacy project. For more information, contact Catherine Lynch, director of campaigning, at 888-792-5885.


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