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Prof. Jonathan Rieder shares story behind President Kennedy's Civil Rights Address

In The Atlantic, sociology professor Jonathan Rieder writes about President Kennedy's Civil Rights Address, noting the profound influence of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the protesters in Birmingham, Alabama on the 1963 speech that changed the national discourse on civil rights. An excerpt from Prof. Rieder's piece:

""Can you believe that white man not only stepped up to the plate, he hit it over the fence!" That was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s private verdict on President John F. Kennedy's famous Civil Rights Address, delivered fifty years ago on June 11, 1963.

If King's elation made sense, so did his incredulity. Kennedy had hardly been a beacon of moral resolve on civil rights. It required the Birmingham civil rights movement -- and the tough-minded theory of social change that King spelled out in the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" -- to provoke his speech into being."

Read the full article, which includes an excerpt from rare audio tapes of King's speeches.

In a profile in The New York Times, Prof. Rieder is heralded as "one of the most astute scholars of Dr. King as a preacher." His new book, Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation, has also drawn widespread media attention from PBS's Tavis Smiley, WBUR, and CNN, among others.