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Sermons of the Dreamer
He was not a national figure in September 1948. He was a young preacher at a Pennsylvania seminary who saw wrongs.
At that time, the young Martin Luther King Jr. sermonized on social issues, like the Cold War and poverty. But his early writings held the thread that led to his thinking on civil rights and the impact of racial discrimination.
“King said he was not only about changing the souls of individuals, but changing the soul of society as well,” said University of Kentucky history professor Gerald Smith.
Smith’s expertise in King’s sermons is particularly timely now, as UK and Lexington prepare to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Smith and his doctoral student and co-editor, Troy Jackson, have become well acquainted with the evolution of Dr. King’s philosophy of social activism through their editing of “Advocate of a Social Gospel, September 1948 through March 1963,” the sixth volume of “The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr.,” a project housed at Stanford University.
The volume will be published in January 2007. Smith will inspect the galleys this spring and correct typographical and grammatical errors.
Smith began working on the project in 1998, five years after joining the faculty of this university where he earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.
“I’d been asked by Stanford professor Claiborne Carson to be a co-editor of one of the volumes. I became a licensed minister in 1998, and when I told (Carson), he informed me that Stanford had acquired King’s sermons,” Smith said. He was ordained in 2002.
“His sermons were hand-written on school notebook paper. They were legible, neat and organized,” he said.
“What we were able to do was trace the origin of his thoughts, the origin of his theology. We could see how his philosophy of nonviolence developed,” Smith said.
Smith and Jackson and two editors at Stanford also saw how King’s writing style evolved, from slow delivery, sound theology, and sometimes awkward phrasing to the eloquence that made him so distinctive and effective as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s.
“The man could paint pictures with words, and those pictures helped focus the conscience of a nation,” Smith said.