In April 1963, under police detention in Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King read an open letter, published in a local newspaper, from a number of southern white clergymen calling for an end to civil-rights demonstrations—which they considered "unwise and untimely." King began drafting a response in the margins of the paper. The result was his "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," which our magazine republished for a national readership in the summer of '63, and which became, according to the scholar Randall Kennedy—as The Atlantic's editor in chief James Bennet recalled to an audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival over the weekend—"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.'"
Here, in the work's 50th-anniversary year, Anna Deavere Smith performs excerpts from from the "Letter," accompanied by Robert Duffy on violin and Anne Epperson on piano ...
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