Beacon Press traces its origins to the 1820s when the American Unitarian Association was founded and immediately began publishing books that reflected the Unitarian mission. By 1854, Ralph Waldo Emerson's cousin George had collected money to start a formal publishing program, and the AUA Press began that year, initially largely with collections of sermons, but volumes which included, to quote historian Susan Wilson, "eloquent writings on such topic as temperance, women's rights…, and the abolition of slavery." By the time it was renamed Beacon Press in 1902, the legacy of enlightened, liberal religious thought that informs the list today, and which you'll see reflected in the sampling of books on display here, was firmly engrained.
Which is why we were so convinced that Beacon would be the perfect publishing home for the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have been rereading and listening to Dr. King a lot of late (as you might imagine) and what surprises me most is how current his thinking is, how he seems to be speaking not from the 1950s or 60s but from the post 9/11 era, even from the Obama era. What he has to say to us in an age of globalization, in a so-called "post-racial" age, is as valid and in some respects more urgent in a world where 25,000 children die in poverty every day; in a world where American soldiers are killing and dying in an unjust war, in a world where too many people are judged daily by the color of their skin, or the name they give their God, rather than the content of their character.
As Senator Edward Kennedy has remarked, "Much of Dr. King's broad and powerful message is in danger of being left behind, as new generations come to know him only through history and see him more as myth than man. His life and great works are still relevant to the complex realities of today's social problems and if we allow the richness of his example to recede, we lose the opportunity to learn from him. There is still so much to learn from walking in his path."
It's our plan to illuminate that path with brilliant books. This agreement is brand new, obviously, and we've just begun to dig into the archives, so to speak, so I can't give you the exhaustive list of books we hope to publish over the years. But I can tell you that we will start by bringing back into print three books that Dr. King saw published in his lifetime and which have been unavailable for over a decade. The first is Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King's account of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a book which should be read not only for it's historic value, but for what it teaches us about community activism. Like all of the books in the King Legacy, Stride will have a new introduction, which will not only place the book in its historic perspective, but will describe how the book speaks to the 21st century. Acclaimed King scholar Clayborne Carson will edit and introduce this volume. And I'm delighted to say that Dr. Carson has agreed to be General Advisory Editor for the entire series. We will also bring back into print Where Do We Go From Here, which was first published in paperback by Beacon Press in 1968, and are thrilled to announce that we will have an introduction by Dr. Vincent Harding for that volume. Dr. Harding was a close associate of Dr. King and is the author of many works about him. Finally, we have a new edition of Trumpet of Conscience, Dr. King's stirring orations originally delivered just 6 months before his death. All these books, along with a new hardcover edition of Strength to Love, will be published on Dr. King's birthday next January.
After that, many new volumes will follow. Books that will collect Dr. Kings 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.