Listen to a Powerful Reminder of Why Martin Luther King Still Matters

Black performers breathe new life into King’s radical message

Gabourey Sidibe reads "Pilgrimage to Nonviolence" in The Radical King.Audible

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April 4th marks 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. For nearly as long, there’s been a struggle to claw back King’s legacy from an effort to whittle away the more radical edges of his beliefs and gloss over the radical solutions they pointed towards. The new Audible audiobook, The Radical Kingsets out to reintroduce this forgotten side of the slain civil-rights leader. To do so, it’s enlisted some of today’s most recognizable black performers, including Leslie Odom Jr., Wanda Sykes, Gabourey Sidibe, and Danny Glover, to record 23 of King speeches that present his most stinging criticisms of racism, capitalism, and war.

In the clips below, Leslie Odom Jr. reads King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” and Gabby Sidibe gives her rendering of his “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence.”


Having secured the nearly-impossible-to-obtain approval of the King estate, the project gives listeners an opportunity to chew on King’s political analysis without being distracted by his larger-than-life presence. Severed from that iconic and booming baritone, which had a way of climbing to its own rhetorical mountaintop, we’re left only with King’s words and the ambitious vision they still hold out for the world. 

In March 1968, less than a month before his assassination, King gave his “Other America” speech in a Detroit suburb. In her contribution to The Radical King, comedian Wanda Sykes revives his warning that the existence of one America “overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity” and another where millions “find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” makes “all of our cities potentially powder kegs.” King’s proposed solution—ending poverty by establishing a guaranteed basic income for everyone—has recently gained mainstream recognition and is being experimented with in places like Stockton, California.

In his introduction to the audiobook, Cornell West emphasizes the enduring relevance of King’s political vision. “The radical King was a democratic socialist who sided with poor and working people,” West says. “The response of the radical King to our catastrophic moment can be put in one word: revolution—a revolution in our priorities, a reevaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life, and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.”

The audiobook, which will be released on April 3, attempts to give King’s words a home in the voice of others to see if they can’t be brought back to life 50 years after their author lost his own.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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