"I am in Birmingham because injustice is here," declared Martin Luther King, Jr. He had come to that city of racist terror convinced that massive protest could topple Jim Crow. But the insurgency faltered. To revive it, King made a sacrificial act on Good Friday, April 12, 1963: he was arrested. Alone in his cell, reading a newspaper, he found a statement from eight "moderate" clergymen who branded the protests extremist and "untimely."
King drafted a furious rebuttal that emerged as the "Letter from Birmingham Jail"-a work that would take its place among the masterpieces of American moral argument alongside those of Thoreau and Lincoln. His insistence on the urgency of "Freedom Now" would inspire not just the marchers of Birmingham and Selma, but peaceful insurgents from Tiananmen to Tahrir Squares.
Scholar Jonathan Rieder delves deeper than anyone before into the Letter-illuminating both its timeless message and its crucial position in the history of civil rights. Rieder has interviewed King's surviving colleagues, and located rare audiotapes of King speaking in the mass meetings of 1963. Gospel of freedom gives us a startling perspective on the Letter and the man who wrote it: an angry prophet who chastised American whites, found solace in the faith and resilience of the slaves, and knew that moral appeal without struggle never brings justice.
Jonathan Rieder is professor of sociology at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is the author of The Word of the Lord Is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn Against Liberalism. He has been a regular commentator on TV and radio, a contributor to the New York Times Book Review, and a contributing editor for the New Republic.
Rick Perlstein is the author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, winner of the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Award for history, and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008), a New York Times bestseller picked as one of the best nonfiction books of the year by over a dozen publications. A former online columnist for The New Republic and Rolling Stone and former chief national correspondent for the Village Voice, his journalism and essays have appeared in Newsweek, The Nation, the New York Times, and many other publications. Perlstein has been called the "chronicler extraordinaire of American conservatism" by Politico and the "hypercaffeinated Herodotus of the American century" by The Nation. On August 5th, Simon & Schuster will release his new book called The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. He lives in Chicago and plays jazz piano on the side.
The book release party for The Invisible Bridge will be at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore on Tuesday, August 12th at 6 PM. The following night, Wednesday, August 13th at 6 PM, he will discuss The Invisible Bridge with Garry Wills at the Harold Washington Library Center.
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