On April 12, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and dozens of other activists were arrested after leading a protest to shine a national spotlight on the racist treatment of Black people in Birmingham, Alabama. While Dr. King was held in solitary confinement, local religious leaders published a critique of the demonstration and Dr. King's tactics. Dr. King responded with an impassioned defense of nonviolent, direct action, now known as "Letter from the Birmingham Jail." The letter, as perfectly described by Dr. King's adviser and friend Dr. Clarence B. Jones, is a "symphony of social justice."
In 2018, Oakland composer Zachary Watkins (Black Spirituals) wrote Peace Be Till for the contemporary classical group Kronos Quartet, in honor of Dr. King's activism. The staggering excerpt above features Dr. Jones, currently director of the University of San Francisco Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice, reading from the "Letter from the Birmingham Jail." The film was edited by Evan Neff.
Below, a new short piece by Watkins and performed by Kronos Quartet in celebration of Dr. Jones's 90th birthday last week: