The Atlantic releases Holy Week: eight-episode narrative podcast, hosted by Vann R. Newkirk II

An exploration of how the week that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968, diverted the course of a social revolution

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The Atlantic

“The story we are often given transforms King’s death from a tragedy into a sort of redemption. The final chapter of a victorious movement for justice. But that story is wrong.”

Today The Atlantic has released Holy Week, an expansive eight-episode narrative podcast reported by senior editor Vann R. Newkirk II about the uprisings that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968––one of the most fiery, disruptive, and contentious weeks in American history––and how those seven days diverted the course of a social revolution. April 4, 1968, is remembered by many as the end of the civil-rights movement, and a time of loss. Holy Week tells a new story: a story that completely changes how we understand the entire trajectory of modern America.

All eight episodes of the podcast are available now; listen and subscribe at Holy Week marks a return to narrative podcasts for The Atlantic following its Peabody-winning Floodlines, which was also hosted by Newkirk and was widely hailed as one of 2020’s best podcasts.

“Collective grief can have a way of warping the historical lens, trapping us in a moment and overshadowing some of what came before,” Vann narrates. In reporting the podcast over the past year, talking with people about the assassination and the unrest that upended their lives, he says: “What I’ve heard is a story about a break in time. 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.”

With dozens of original interviews and rarely heard archival material, Holy Week is told through the voices of those who witnessed history: activists and leaders of the movement, who worked alongside and at times at odds with King; officials from the Johnson White House, on the mindset, actions, and inactions of the president; and residents of D.C., Baltimore, Atlanta, Memphis, and elsewhere, who watched their cities burn and whose lives were forever changed. Among the individuals we meet:

  • John Burl Smith, one of the last people to meet with King at the Lorraine Motel, hours before King was shot. Smith was part of an activist group, The Invaders, that was growing frustrated with King’s practice of nonviolence.

  • Vanessa Dixon, a lifelong resident of D.C., who participated in the riots as a 12-year-old, and whose older brother, Vincent Lawson, went missing during the uprising.

  • Juandalynn Abernathy, the daughter of the civil-rights activist Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, and the best childhood friend of King’s oldest daughter, Yolanda King. Juandalynn recalls being on the phone with Yolanda when King’s death was announced, and delivering the news to her friend.

  • Matthew Nimetz, who worked as a staff assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson beginning in the long hot summer of 1967. Nimetz was the liaison between Johnson and the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission.

  • Tony Gittens, who became involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while at Howard University and speaks to the events of that week. Gittens later founded the Washington, D.C., International Film Festival.

  • Robert Birt, who as a teenager witnessed the uprising in Baltimore and the occupation of the city. Birt is now a philosophy professor at Bowie State University.

Holy Week begins what will be a significant year for The Atlantic in audio, with several strategic initiatives set to launch in the coming months. Audio is led by Claudine Ebeid as executive producer, alongside managing editor Andrea Valdez. Ebeid joined The Atlantic from The New York Times and, before that, NPR. The Holy Week team includes Jocelyn Frank and Ethan Brooks, with sound design by David Herman. New additions to the audio team in the past year include senior producer Theo Balcomb and engineer Rob Smierciak, who join producer Rebecca Rashid, producer Kevin Townsend, and senior producer A.C. Valdez.

Press Contacts:
Paul Jackson and Anna Bross | The Atlantic