Recording of Martin Luther King’s 1st “I Have a Dream” speech discovered In this Aug. 28, 1963 photo, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, gestures during his "I Have a Dream" speech as he addresses thousands of civil rights supporters gathered in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo)
Recording of Martin Luther King’s 1st “I Have a Dream” speech discovered
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Before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech to hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington in 1963, he fine-tuned his civil rights message before a much smaller audience in North Carolina.
 
Reporters had covered King's 55-minute speech at a high school gymnasium in Rocky Mount on Nov. 27, 1962, but a recording wasn't known to exist until English professor Jason Miller found an aging reel-to-reel tape in a town library. Miller played it in public for the first time Aug. 11 at North Carolina State University.
 
"It is part civil rights address. It is part mass meeting. And it has the spirit of a sermon," Miller said. "And I never before heard Dr. King combine all those genres into one particular moment."
 
King used the phrase "I have a dream" eight times in his address to about 2,000 people at Booker T. Washington High School in Rocky Mount, eight months before electrifying the nation with the same words at the March on Washington.
 
He also referred to "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners," saying he dreamed they would "meet at the table of brotherhood." On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King changed that to "sit down together at the table of brotherhood." In both speeches, "Let Freedom Ring" served as his rallying cry.
 
"It's not so much the message of a man," the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, said. "It's the message of a movement, which is why he kept delivering it. It proves once again that the 'I have a dream' portion was not a good climax to a speech for mere applause, but an enduring call to hopeful resistance and a nonviolent challenge to injustice."
 
Miller discovered the recording while researching "Origins of the Dream," his book exploring similarities between King's speeches and the poetry of Langston Hughes. His ah-ha moment came when he learned through a newspaper story about a transcript of the speech in state archives. If there's a transcript, then there must be a recording, he thought.
 
He sent emails and made calls until he eventually heard back in the fall of 2013 from the Braswell Public Library in Rocky Mount, where staff said a box with the recording had mysteriously appeared on a desk one day. Handwriting on the box described it as a recording of King's speech, and said, "please do not erase."
 
Before listening to the recording, Miller confirmed that the 1.5-millimeter acetate reel-to-reel tape could be played safely. He brought it to an audio expert in Philadelphia, George Blood, who set it as close to its original levels as he could. Then Blood, whose clients include the Library of Congress, digitized the tape.
 
It proved fortunate for King that he had practiced the dream part of his speech in Rocky Mount and later in Detroit, because it wasn't part of his typewritten speech in Washington. Historians say the singer Mahalia Jackson shouted "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" as he reached a slow point in his prepared text. King then improvised, and lit up the audience with phrases very similar to those he had delivered in that gymnasium.
 
Three people who were in the audience that day in 1962 listened again as the recording was played at the university's James B. Hunt Library. Herbert Tillman, who was about 17 years old at the time, recalled how happy they were to see and hear such an inspiring leader.
 
"Everybody was attentive to what he had to say," Tillman said. "And the words that he brought to Rocky Mount were words of encouragement that we really needed in Rocky Mount at that time."
 
Barber said this newly available recording of King's earlier speech - urging blacks to focus on voting rights and peacefully but forcefully push for change - is just as inspiring today.
 
"Make no mistake. This kind of oratory is dangerous," Barber said, "especially for those who want to go back, especially for those who want the status quo because this kind of oratory can loose the captive and set people free to stand up and fight for their own freedom."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How is this recording made in North Carolina connected to the speech Martin Luther King gave in Washington?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (2)
  • brieherr25506@ccps.org-har
    8/31/2015 - 09:12 a.m.

    I believe this document on Martin Luther King Jr’s speech had a lot to do with American culture today. Say we weren’t to find his recording and it was still there till this very day. Say we never found it, things like race would matter. People would see things differently we would possibly still have some states where having slaves are legal. If we take a moment to sit and realize that we should be thanking this teacher for finding Dr. Luther’s recording because things would be completely different without it.

  • monayoun18247@ccps.org-har
    9/02/2015 - 09:03 p.m.

    I believe that the "I had a dream" speech is very significant to our culture in the united states today because it changed everything. It was great that this recording was found so that it could be played to these kids, it shows them what and they get to here first hand what was a part of the drastic change in culture of the united states. If this speech was never heard live or on tape then some people would not have seen the other side of racism. Some people would still believe that, that is how it should be as some people do. The "I have a dream" speech showed the other side of culture in the USA that everybody can actually work and co-exist with each other or at least it planted the seed in someones head who later on seen that too. Which is why we have the culture of everyone being free in the USA now no matter their Color,Religion or Gender.

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