In April 1963, while under police detention in Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King read an open letter written by a number of southern white clergymen and published in a local newspaper, calling for an end to civil-rights demonstrations, which the authors considered "unwise and untimely." King began drafting a response in the margins of the paper. That response became his "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," which our magazine republished for a national readership in the summer of '63, and which became -- as The Atlantic's editor in chief James Bennet recalled to an audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival over the weekend -- what the scholar Randall Kennedy has called "twentieth-century America's most quoted and inspiring manifesto in defense of humane civil disobedience."
"Nothing better animates the idea of universal human rights," Kennedy wrote, "than [King's] declaration that 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'"
In its 50th-anniversary year, Anna Devere Smith recited excerpts from from the "Letter" here in Aspen, accompanied by Robert Duffy on violin and Anne Epperson on piano ...
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