Fortress Press

There Is a Balm in Gilead: The Cultural Roots of Martin Luther King Jr.

There Is a Balm in Gilead

The Cultural Roots of Martin Luther King Jr.

Lewis V. Baldwin (Author)


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The sources of Martin Luther King, Jr.,'s phenomenal and prophetic impact on life in America and beyond have never been adequately understood.

In this path-breaking volume, Lewis Baldwin traces King's vision and activism not to his formal philosophical and theological development but directly to his roots in Southern black culture, where King spent most of his 39 years.

King's appropriation of the Bible, Gandhi, American participatory democracy, Boston personalism, and the theologies of Reinhold Niebuhr and the Social Gospel makes sense, Baldwin argues, only against his visceral and abiding identification with black culture and the black Christian tradition. Working directly with the trove of King's sermons, speeches, and unpublished papers, Baldwin has reconstructed the pain and joy, the defeat and triumph King experienced in his formative family relationships, in the black church, in his childhood and education, in his marriage and children, in segregated black Atlanta, and in his leadership of America's civil rights movement.

Baldwin's through research and engaging writing finally give us what King had but Scholars have missed: the sense of place that grounded his vision of the "beloved community."
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800624576
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 352
  • Publication Date February 1, 1991


"Lewis Baldwin's much-needed study will influence the black church and the black cultural heritage as well as provide an important starting point for understanding King."
— James H. Cone, Union Theological Seminary, New York

"...vibrant with stories, names, humor, music and all the richness of the Southern Black church and community."
— Robert A. Raines, The New York Times Book Review

Table of Contents


  1. Cast Down Your Bucket: Back Home to an Old Southern Place

  2. Walk Together, Children: Family Heritage

  3. How I Got Over: Roots in the Black Church

  4. Up, You Mighty Race! The Black Messianic Hope

  5. Standing in the Shoes of John: A Bearer of the Black Preaching Tradition