Although many know Martin Luther King Jr. as a Civil Rights leader, his younger years attending the Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pa., is the focus of author Patrick Parr’s "The Seminarian: Martin Luther King Jr. Comes of Age," released April 1 by the Chicago Review Press.
"I would like young people to read the book and realize they could be King in some ways," the 1999 Cuyahoga Falls graduate said.
Parr, who will speak May 1 at the Tallmadge Branch Library, asks people to relate to King as a human being with flaws, rather than placing him in a too lofty position to which people can no longer relate.
He also will sign books at The Learned Owl Book Shop, 204, Main St. in Hudson April 29 from 2 to 3:30 p.m.
"I want them to realize King was fun," Parr said. "He had a playful side, and he had a normalcy about him to balance the uniqueness he offered. I don't think we're done with his philosophy, and we need to connect with him."
Finishing a different book, Parr says the idea spawned in a public library in Bellevue, Wash.
"The book was about people at the age of 22, and I collected 40 ideas for biographical portraits. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of them," Parr said. "I started looking through biographies and wanted to do something about his younger years and couldn't find anything. I dug a little and got into it deeper and deeper. There's a surprising lack of information until King is 26. We talk about him so much but no one has analyzed how he became the man we idolize."
The book, which took five years to research, describes an interracial romance between Martin Luther King Jr. and Betty Moitz of Chester, Pa., while King attended Crozer Seminary.
"I am the only biographer to talk to Betty about their [interracial] relationship, which almost resulted in marriage," Parr said, adding that Moitz only recently passed away at the age of 89.
Parr talked with Moitz on and off for almost two years through emails and a letter, before meeting her face to face in January 2016. The two spoke for three hours in her Pennsylvania home.
"She's a strong, confident and wonderful woman,"Parr said. "She was happily married for decades and had children."
Parr said Moitz described the relationship as "madly, madly in love, the way young people can fall in love."
Although King did not stay with Betty, he made statements on the record and in his sermons about how he supported interracial marriage, but it didn't get a lot of publicity, Parr said.
"When we released a piece of the book about his relationship with Betty, that was meant to start a conversation ... and it did," Parr said.
Most of the responses to the book have been positive, though it has been suggested that the interracial relationship was too controversial, he said.
"Some people have an ideal image of King and don't want it to be changed or altered," Parr said. "What I'm doing with this book is altering it a little bit, but I strongly admired King. I wouldn't have spent five years with him [researching] if I didn't."
King’s coursework at seminary, and his development from a shy 19-year-old rookie preacher to student body president and leader at the seminary in three years shows a big evolution of character, Parr said.
"Without Crozer, we don't have the King we think about now," Parr said. "They were his formative years."
Surrounded by white professors and white staff at Crozer, Parr says King learned about northern white culture, which in turn helped him to bridge the two cultures, Parr said. He learned how integration worked.
Parr graduated with a degree in literature and creative writing from Catawba College in North Carolina, and followed that up with a master's degree from Seton Hill University.
"I majored in literature and played quite a bit of tennis," Parr said. "I was the number one single player in high school and got a scholarship to Catawba. I like books and tennis and that was college."
In May 2014, Parr was awarded an Artist Trust Fellowship for his literary career.
His works have appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. His nonfiction has focused mainly on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also has written extensively about Japan, where he now lives with his wife, Yuka. He has also completed biographical portraits of James Baldwin, Kurt Vonnegut and Kato Shidzue, a Japanese feminist.
Parr’s mother, Dr. Heather Parr, a former opera singer, lives in Cuyahoga Falls where she offers voice lessons.
For more information, go to www.patrickparr.com/bio