The Trumpet of Conscience is a collection of speeches made by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during November and December 1967, published in book form after Dr. King's assassination in 1968, with a foreword by his widow, Coretta Scott King. The speeches were originally broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as the seventh annual Massey Lecture series, named for Vincent Massey, former Governor General of Canada. Their titles are as follows:

  1. Impasse in Race Relations
  2. Conscience and the Vietnam War
  3. Youth and Social Action
  4. Nonviolence and Social Change
  5. A Christmas Sermon on Peace

I picked up The Trumpet of Conscience at my friendly local public library probably for Chapter 4, "Nonviolence and Social Change", but the whole book is well worth reading. It's only 78 pages, so you could do it in a day if you wanted.

In some ways, The Trumpet of Conscience is a very inspiring little book; in others, it is profoundly depressing. It is a stirring call to action, a call to readers to recognize the connections between poverty, racism, and war and act nonviolently for social change, coming from one of the most respected figures in the history of civil rights and nonviolent social change. To quote the man himself in "Conscience and the Vietnam War":

I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace [which Dr. King was awarded in 1964] was also a commission---a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for "the brotherhood of man." This is a calling which takes me beyond national allegiances... (25)

Dr. King's concern for all of humanity is apparent in every page of The Trumpet of Conscience, and the depth of his commitment is as inspiring as his eloquent rhetoric. Say whatever you want about the man, but he sure could preach. I'm not a religious person, but the vast majority of what Dr. King has to preach about in this book is universal to everyone, regardless of faith (or lack thereof). As an example, here's a quote from later in the same chapter:

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when they help us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition. (29)

Later on, in "A Christmas Sermon for Peace", Dr. King discusses the kind of love required to embrace and accept even the people who oppose you. It's a stirring passage, and it makes me want to read his book Strength to Love. Fortunately, I got that out of the library at the same time as The Trumpet of Conscience, so I'm good to go.

I could end this writeup here, on that optimistic note, but some of you may remember that earlier I described this book as being as depressing as it is inspiring. I feel like I should explain that statement.

The Trumpet of Conscience is an optimistic book, ringing with determination and hope for the future of the United States of America. Unfortunately, it was written nearly 45 years ago, and many, if not most, of the problems it addresses are still alive and well and problematic today. It makes me feel like a failure, somehow, like there's something deeply wrong with me and the country I was born in, if not the whole world, that we aren't making a lot more progress towards eradicating poverty, racism, or war. I like to think that the human race can do better than make these problems worse, but reading The Trumpet of Conscience, at times I felt like Dr. King's faith is a little misguided. And that's really depressing. Fortunately, as a whole The Trumpet of Conscience is an uplifting read, so I didn't have to dwell on too many thoughts of failure and despair.


Martin Luther King, Jr. The Trumpet of Conscience. Foreword by Coretta Scott King. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1967.

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