Introducing: Holy Week
The story of a revolution undone
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The story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968, is often recounted as a conclusion to a powerful era of civil rights in America, but how did this hero’s murder come to be the stitching used to tie together a narrative of victory? The week that followed his killing was one of the most fiery, disruptive, and revolutionary, and is nearly forgotten. Over the course of eight episodes, Holy Week brings forward the stories of the activists who turned heartbreak into action, families scorched by chaos, and politicians who worked to contain the grief. Seven days diverted the course of a social revolution and set the stage for modern clashes over voting rights, redlining, critical race theory, and the role of racial unrest in today’s post–George Floyd reckoning. Subscribe and listen to all eight episodes beginning March 14, 2023.
Male speaker: If they would shoot a man like Dr. King, they’d shoot my little boy, they’d shoot my wife, they’d shoot me.
VANN R. NEWKIRK II: April 4, 1968, is remembered by many as the end of the civil-rights movement—a time of loss.
Vanessa Dixon: And we had been taught about lynchings, and the school bombings, and Rosa Parks … But a white man killed a prominent person in our life.
NEWKIRK II: Collective grief can have a way of warping the historical lens, trapping us in a moment and overshadowing some of what came before.
Taquiena Boston: We kids were very close-knit because we played every summer; we were outside in the back—baseball, kickball, volleyball.
NEWKIRK II: What came after King’s assassination was a week of uprisings that have largely been forgotten.
Theophus Brooks: We broke out and went up to 14th Street.
Newkirk II (on tape): What did you see when you got up there?
Brooks: Maybe about two or 3,000 people. When I had got up there, they had burned most everything down.
NEWKIRK II: I’m Vann Newkirk, senior editor at The Atlantic. For the past year, I’ve been talking to people about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the ensuing unrest that upended so many of their lives.
What I’ve heard is a story about a break in time. A story that completely changes how I understand the end of the civil-rights movement and the entire trajectory of modern America. It’s a story about the limits of racial reckonings, and about how trauma lives with people through time. It’s a story about hope, about grief, about dreams, and about dreams deferred.
John Burl Smith: Had he been able to do what he was planning to do, we would be looking at a different America.
NEWKIRK II: From The Atlantic, this is Holy Week. Listen to all eight episodes beginning on March 14, and visit TheAtlantic.com/HolyWeek.