Of the words most frequently used to describe the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. today, “radical” is not high on the list. With his insistence on nonviolence, his Southern humility, his Christian bearing, and his soaring yet measured oratory, King never cast stones, much less fire bombs, real or symbolic. But underneath this sober exterior lay the passion of a revolutionary who seethed at what he saw as the failure of Western capitalism to address not only racism but poverty, militarism and empire-building.
Although most closely associated with the civil rights movement, King saw that struggle as intertwined with economic inequality and American foreign policy, all of which he spoke or wrote about throughout his life.
It’s this far more nuanced figure that “The Radical King,” a new collection of excerpts from King’s speeches and other writings edited and introduced by Cornel West, hopes to bring into focus. In these passages, King recalls some of the most dramatic episodes of the civil rights movement (such as the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott), but also holds forth on the Vietnam War, Zionism and the Middle East, apartheid in South Africa, anti-colonialism in India, and workers’ rights movements around the world, among other topics.