Drawing on archival materials and interviews, this book investigates Martin Luther King Jr.'s years at the Crozer Theological Seminary, where his courses, relationships, and early preaching laid the intellectual foundation for the future Nobel laureate.
More than anything else, it’s Mr. Parr’s willingness to dig that impresses and makes The Seminarian an original, much-needed and even stirring book about King’s formative years at Crozer. King’s decision to go to a small, mostly white school in Chester, Pa., and study with an all-white, largely liberal faculty would have profound effects on this son of an Atlanta minister. If Mr. Parr were a basketball player, he’d be King’s opposite. There’s no flash to his game. His prose never rises above the rim. But he hustles and does all the little things right. He lists every class that King took at Crozer and goes into detail on the most important ones, describing the courses and professors who helped shape one of the 20th century’s great leaders ... Those details may be useful for future historians, and Mr. Parr deserves credit for leaving no page in King’s academic record unturned. But his significant contribution is in helping us understand what made this young man extraordinary and in taking on subjects that might prove difficult to stomach for those who worship King ... The revelations about King’s love life and academic fraud may garner the headlines ... the book’s real achievement is in charting King’s intellectual and spiritual development, building a compelling case that the black church was not King’s only foundation.
King’s three years at the Crozer Theological Seminary, south of Philadelphia, marked an important turning point in his life and are well worth the exclusive focus they get in this compact, readable and well-researched book ... Parr’s most interesting revelations trace King’s growth as a preacher and public speaker ... Presumably, readers will come to a book called The Seminarian expecting to discover how three years in divinity school influenced King’s religious and political ideas. On this score, Parr offers course catalog descriptions and some vivid stories, but not much in-depth reflection. He relates unpleasant episodes at local diners that stoked King’s anger at Northern racism ... King’s vision of himself as a 'drum major for justice' also had much in common with the Old Testament prophets, whom he studied in depth at Crozer. Here, too, Parr offers little analysis, but he does leave readers with a memorable image.
Most illuminating is the book’s treatment of King’s intellectual development. As others have shown, he was a serial plagiarizer of course papers. Parr offers extensive documentation of this problematic practice as well as some speculation about why King might have engaged in it, not to mention how he avoided getting caught ... Parr’s book does not mount an especially ambitious argument. But he has done some impressive digging in the historical record and there is no doubt that scholars writing about King will find The Seminarian useful. The book should also attract students and faculty at seminaries and divinity schools, who will be interested not only in the particularities of King’s experience at Crozer but also in the fascinating picture that emerges of a mid-20th-century theological education.