The first volume of what is considered the most definitive project ever devoted to the life of Martin Luther King Jr. chronicles his childhood hatred of whites, his early religious doubts and the choices that catapulted him to the forefront of the civil rights movement.
Drawing on previously unpublished letters and student essays, "Called to Serve" traces King's family from the last generation of slaves to his 22nd year. The book, which will be published next month, chronicles the hatred King felt toward whites back to age 6, when the father of a white playmate told his son he could no longer play with young King.
He continued to harbor hostility toward whites until he was 15 and visited the desegregated North. In a letter to his father he wrote:
"After we passed Washington [there] was no discrimination at all, the white people here are very nice. We go to any place we want to and sit any where we want to."
"Called to Serve" is the first of the proposed 14-volume project based on more than 300,000 of King's papers, speeches and sermons.
The project made national headlines last year after researchers discovered that King had plagiarized portions of his academic papers, including his doctoral dissertation.
"It was something that I had not counted on when I took this job," said Clayborne Carson, the Stanford University historian Coretta Scott King asked to direct the project.
But in context, he added, that pales next to the formative environment that shaped King's views.
"The most important aspect is that it gives us a rounded view of King's origins, his background, that is something I don't think is available in the existing biographies," Carson said.
Christine King Farris, the sole living member of the immediate family in which King grew up, believes the project will be viewed as the most authentic because much of the information came directly from King's family and private papers.
"Most everything that has been written about him comes from second- and third-hand sources," said Farris, King's sister. "They have interpretations according to their experiences and in many instances it was not their way."