If ever there was a work that fit the audio book platform, it is A Knock at Midnight. Compiled from recordings made of Dr. Martin Luther King sermons, this six-tape set covers the period from 1954 until shortly before the celebrated civil rights leader's death. Dr. Claybourne Carson and Peter Holloran amassed the eleven sermons contained on the tapes from various sources. Each is introduced by a well-known theologian. Among the contributors were Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bishop T.D. Jakes, and Father Theodore Hesburgh.
The introductions are eloquent, but the attraction here is Dr. King's voice and words. Often relegated to historical text and seen only in familiar sound clips, the audio book offers a deeper look at the ministerial King. It is a chance to listen to King preach from pre-Montgomery until days before his death, to trace the powerful events that shaped his life and ministry. It is an opportunity to explore the theological roots and depth of knowledge that forged one of the twentieth century's most influential leaders.
Of the three sermons presented from before 1960, perhaps the most intriguing is Paul's letter to American Christians, delivered in Montgomery, Alabama on November 4, 1956. Using the imaginative premise of a letter from the Apostle Paul to Americans, Dr. King calls for Americans to match the pace of technological change with similar advances in moral change. His vast command of the communicative process is already evident. He refuses to bend morally on issues he sees as divisive to the church and society. The social issues of poverty and race relations that marked his life are prominent. The man who two years earlier described himself as "a young man with most of my life ahead of me" is already aware that the stands he has taken may one day take his life.
Throughout the years core beliefs expressed in early sermons remain prominent. The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life and Why Jesus Called a Man A Fool (both delivered in 1967) point toward understanding the most important things in life and what the true meaning of success is. Dr. King's readings in psychology and sociology are used to illustrate theological points. His personal adversity and struggles with the backlash his message brought forth are employed in Three Dimensions of a Complete Life as examples of how to find strength in the midst of the most trying times. The King that emerges from these sermons is a man with strong moral values who continually refused to take the easy route when conflict arose between his religious beliefs and the world he lived in.
The Drum Major Instinct and Unfulfilled Dreams (1968) find Dr. King looking at himself critically and discussing how he would like to be remembered in the framework of man's search for recognition and his understanding of his own worth.
The tape set closes with a sermon delivered less than a week before Dr. King's death. Entitled Remaining Awake through A Great Revolution and recorded at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., it is a call for people to acknowledge the problems and injustice around them. Dr. King's voice is tired, and as he touches on familiar themes of racial and economic injustice, one can hear the weariness in his voice. In many ways, however, it is the most powerful of the sermons. The gifted orator evident at the Second Baptist Church in 1954 has developed into a national leader. His voice is haunting as he nears his close with words heard in other sermons, but never with as much impact.
"We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right: "No lie can live forever." We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right: "Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again." We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right: As we were singing today,
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne. Yet that scaffold sways the future. And behind the dim unknown stands God, Within the shadow keeping watch above his own.
With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair the stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."
In the end, thirty years after his death, Dr. King's voice has relevance beyond history, and A Knock at Midnight brings together ample evidence in support of this conclusion.