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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Biographer Jonathan Eig Discusses His New Book ‘King: A Life’

A Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. biographer spoke about how his book, “King: A Life,” provides a livelier account of King’s lived experiences and personality at an April 3 event in Riggs Library.


The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, an academic research center focused on the interdisciplinary study of research, teaching and dialogue, hosted the event as a part of its Faith and Culture Series, which invites authors to discuss how culture and faith interact in their writing and work. Jonathan Eig, who has also written biographies on Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali, was joined by Faith and Culture Series founder and Berkley Center senior fellow Paul Elie


Elie began the dialogue by noting the special day of this occasion: a day before the 56th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination.


Eig described what King’s last night was like, specifically speaking about King’s last speech, which he said was less prepared than commonly presumed and almost never even delivered. 


“People were gathered at Mason Temple, waiting for King to come speak and it was a terrible night, thunderstorm, lightning, and King decided to stay in bed and sent Ralph Abernathy to speak in his place,” Eig said at the event.


“When Abernathy got there and saw how many people were crowded there, he called the Lorraine Motel and said, ‘I’m not the one they want to hear, you got to get out of bed.’ So he was literally in his pajamas and got dressed and went over there, and, without any planning, gave an unusual sermon which proved to be the last speech of his life,” Eig added.


Eig said at the time of his assassination, two-thirds of Americans did not support King, who arrived in Memphis against the wishes of his advisors to support peacefully resolving a strike. 


“He was in Memphis against the advice of most of his friends and advisors. For the last few years he’d been really falling in popularity and the esteem and the respect of most Americans,” Eig said.


Eig said the speech exemplified King’s commitment to non-violence and staying true to his beliefs.


“Nevertheless he kept doubling down on his beliefs, on his Christian radicalism that he had to speak up for the poor, that he had to speak up for the disenfranchised, that he had to attack northern racism, that he had to speak for the Vietnam War, because his brothers in Vietnam were the same as his brothers in America,” Eig said.


Yifu Ke/The Hoya | Biographer Jonathan Eig spoke about his new book “King: A Life” and how it gives a livelier account of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s lived experience on April 3 in Riggs Library.

Eig said he chose to call the book “King: the Life” because he wanted to emphasize that King was at the core of his work.


“I want to write a book with King at the center, a much more intimate portrait. I want to write a book that would make people cry when they read to the end,” Eig said.


Eig also said another goal of his book was to paint a fuller picture of King’s wife, Coretta Scott King. According to Eig, pivotal moments in MLK’s journey were at times defined by Mrs. King’s insight and ideas.


“He was always a little bit afraid of his father and had a hard time standing up to him. Our greatest protest leader was averse to conflicts when it came to personal relations. But Coretta has no problem standing up to Daddy King,” Eig said.


Eig also discussed the meeting of Ali, the subject of Eig’s previous biography, and King in Louisville, Ky., during a press conference. He said the meeting was unique because, despite their dissimilar political and ideological stances, the two got along well.


“Ali is the only one I ever saw who got King to laugh in public,” Eig said. “As the recorder was trying to provoke and divide black leaders and said, ‘You’ve criticized Dr. King for seeking integration, you’ve said integration is a waste of time. What did you two discuss today?’Ali just started like, ‘Oh we had a great talk, we are like Khrushchev and Kennedy. We are the best of friends.’” 

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