In May 2009 Beacon Press entered into an exclusive publishing relationship with the Estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “This historic partnership,” in Dexter Scott King’s words, gave Beacon Press not only the right to print new editions of previously published King titles but also to compile entirely new and original books from King’s archives. In this post, editor Gayatri Patnaik discusses the most recent release in The King Legacy Series.
For years, many of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches on labor have been lost to the general public because amassing material from various archives—with unintelligible tape recordings, faded notes, and incomplete transcripts—can be a lengthy and trying process. But, it’s also a rewarding one.
I recall when my colleague Joanna Green and I first received audio copies of King from archivists at the University of Memphis and New York University. Like most Americans, we were very familiar with his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the March on Washington but we had never heard, or even heard of, his passionate speeches to unions.
Reading King and listening to him speak are certainly two very different experiences. When we first listened to a prescient speech he gave on economic justice in Memphis as part of his Poor People’s Campaign, we not only heard the rousing rise and fall of King’s voice but also the forceful response of the 1,300 striking sanitation workers he was speaking to.
As of January 2011, Beacon Press has reissued four books by King: Stride Toward Freedom, Where Do We Go From Here?, Trumpet of Conscience, and, this week, Why We Can't Wait. With the publication of All Labor Has Dignity, edited and introduced by historian Michael K. Honey, we offer the first original book in the series. Like most people, I had forgotten that King was every bit as committed to economic justice as he was to ending racial segregation, but King supported union rights ever since he was a teenager, eventually making his strongest appeals for economic justice speaking before unions.
After weeks spent listening, transcribing, and re-checking our work against the original audio, the end product resulted not only with complete texts of little known speeches King gave on labor but also in rescued audio that now accompanies the book. What began as unforeseen meticulous and arduous work ended with the gift of being able to permanently capture King’s stirring voice on CD delivering powerful words (“Let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth. . . . All labor has dignity.”).
‘All Labor Has Dignity’ is an unprecedented and timely collection that helps us imagine King anew: as a human rights leader whose commitment to labor rights and ending poverty was a crucial part of his civil rights agenda—and I’m excited knowing that the general public will now be able to hear these speeches and have the same magical and transporting experience that Joanna and I had.
Our goal for books in The King Legacy is to introduce King to a new generation of readers, to show aspects of King that are fresh and original, and to underscore how astonishingly relevant he continues to be today. We hope you’ll celebrate King’s birthday with us and that you enjoy listening to the King excerpt provided here from ‘All Labor Has Dignity.’