Aspen Ideas Festival: What you need to know about Martin Luther King

Michele Norris and Clarence Jones at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival.
Michele Norris and Clarence Jones at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival.
Ian Wagreich | Aspen Ideas Festival

Originally, Clarence B. Jones didn't want to work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In February of 1960, Jones received a call from a prominent judge who asked if he would help King with some legal troubles. King was indicted on tax evasion.

As Jones told journalist Michele Norris at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival, he didn't want to leave his home in California to work in Montgomery, Alabama.

Jones was a lawyer who specialized in entertainment law.

"Just because some preacher got his hand caught in the cookie jar stealing that ain't my problem," he said.

As luck would have it, King was on his way to California to perform a sermon and paid Jones a visit the next day. During that visit he tried to persuade Jones to help him.

Jones was unmoved.

It took that sermon from King, which he talked about "the role and responsibility of the negro professional" to convince the young lawyer to drop what he was doing and join the fight for Civil Rights.

Jones sat down with Norris to talk about his work with King, and how he helped write some of King's most famous speeches and letters, such as "I Have a Dream" and "The Letter from Birmingham Jail."

That letter was written piecemeal, with Jones sneaking scraps of paper to King while he was in jail.

"I was too busy dealing with other things. I never read the letter," Jones admitted.

When he finally did, he was struck by King's words.

The web audio for this segment will be available later today.

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Correction (June 29, 2017): An earlier version of this story was incorrect in identifying the person who asked Clarence B. Jones to work with Martin Luther King Jr. It was a prominent judge. The story has been updated.

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