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Reclaiming MLK as a “Citizen of the World”

By Lewis V. Baldwin

KING-BALDWIN-InASingleGarment-revThe global Martin Luther King, Jr. has occupied my thinking for some two decades. I have often wondered how the man who, in his book The Trumpet of Conscience (1968), described himself as “a citizen of the world,” could be so ignored in terms of his international significance. Even King scholars have largely neglected King’s vision of what he variously termed “the world house,” “the new world order,” and “a new humanity.” Knowing that King’s birthday is recognized and/or celebrated in some one hundred countries, I set out to produce a volume of his writings and speeches on racism as a world problem, European colonialism, global poverty, war, the Middle East crisis, and religious bigotry and intolerance.  

In a Single Garment of Destiny reclaims the global Martin Luther King, Jr. through the prism of his own words and activities on behalf of world peace and community. I have come to see that we cannot understand King if we limit him to a southern black preacher or an “American Gandhi.” We must view him as a leader who moved beyond the particularities of the African American and the American experiences to speak and act on behalf of a world fragmented by bigotry, injustice, intolerance, and war.

“The dreamer” is the title by which Martin Luther King, Jr. is known around the world. While he spoke optimistically of the coming realization of the “American dream,” we must never forget his larger vision of “a world made new.” This is why King, in his last two books, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967) and The Trumpet of Conscience, focused so much on world problems, on racism, poverty, and war, and on the need for humans across the globe to move beyond a mere intellectual analysis of nonviolence to an experimentation with that method in every sphere of human conflict. 

As a world figure, King transcends the past in terms of his meaning, authority, and inspiration.  He still has meaning for the contemporary world, especially as we deal with environmental protection concerns, post-Cold War ethnic cleansings, global terrorism, genocide, religiously-based violence, political assassinations, and the mounting cycles of violence, repression, and reprisal in the Middle East.  We need a new appreciation of King’s thought and legacy in the contemporary world.


Lewis V. Baldwin is professor of religious studies at Vanderbilt University and is the author of The Voice of Conscience: The Church in the Mind of Martin Luther King, Jr., There Is a Balm in Gilead: The Cultural Roots of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Baldwin is the editor of two books in The King Legacy series: “Thou, Dear God”: Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits and “In a Single Garment of Destiny”: A Global Vision of Justice.