Martin Luther King’s 1st “I Have a Dream” speech 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)
Martin Luther King’s 1st “I Have a Dream” speech
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Before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech to hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington in 1963, he perfected his civil rights message. That was before a much smaller audience in North Carolina.
 
Reporters had covered King's 55-minute speech at a high school gymnasium in Rocky Mount. It was on Nov. 27, 1962. But a recording was not known to exist until English professor Jason Miller found a reel-to-reel tape It was 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. It was to about 2,000 people at Booker T. Washington High School in Rocky Mount. It was 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." He said he dreamed they would "meet at the table of brotherhood." King changed that to "sit down together at the table of brotherhood" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In both speeches, "Let Freedom Ring" served as his rallying cry.
 
"It is not so much the message of a man," said the Rev. William Barber. He is president of the state chapter of the NAACP. "It is 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. It was an lasting call to hopeful resistance and a nonviolent challenge to injustice."
 
Miller discovered the recording while researching "Origins of the Dream." It is 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 is 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. The library 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. It 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. The expert, George Blood, 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. That is because it was not 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. He 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 was about 17 years old at the time of the Rocky Mount speech. He 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 speech-making is dangerous," Barber said. "Especially for those who want to go back. Especially for those who want the status quo because this kind of speech-making 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 (28)
  • giar-bur
    5/11/2017 - 08:33 a.m.

    Martin Luther King Jr. was a great leader in the civil rights movement. He fought what he believe in and for other peoples beliefs to. He is the greatest leader I think in the world. If he didn't fought for my rights and his rights I wouldn't probably go to a great school like the school I go to now. Martin Luther king Jr. one of the greatest leaders rest in peace M.L.K.

  • Dylang-bru2
    1/17/2018 - 05:53 p.m.

    Martin Luther King Jr. made the recording before the speech in Washington.The recording is connected with the speech at Washington because it was kind of a practice speech.

  • BRANDONG-vms
    1/18/2018 - 10:17 a.m.

    It is a recording of the first time Martin Luther King Jr. spoke the words "I have a dream" before an audience. These same words would go on the be delivered at Washington, and to be the words we define Mr.King by.

  • AUDREYH-vms
    1/18/2018 - 02:36 p.m.

    The speech in North Carolina was connected to the speech in Washington because they both showed how strongly Mr. King felt that it was important for everyone to be treated equally.

  • joeyw-orv
    1/18/2018 - 07:14 p.m.

    I sometimes wonder what would have been changed if he never gave that speech. I know it is pretty obvious what some things would be like today. But i am wondering what specific details would be changed. Like how if he never gave his speech, there would be no tween tribune on it so i wouldn't have used 2 minutes typing about his amazing speech.

  • ALEXISD-vms
    1/18/2018 - 11:25 p.m.

    Martin Luther King was very wise and smart man and had a huge impact on American History.

  • Ceciliaa-eic
    1/19/2018 - 11:23 a.m.

    I think it's cool that Martin Luther King gave that speech, because it changed the life of others.

  • destinys-orv
    1/22/2018 - 11:56 a.m.

    i do not no but i love how he wonted to help black and whites come together for the can be one.

  • CADEW-vms
    1/22/2018 - 10:23 p.m.

    The speech in North Carolina is very similar to the one in Washington. The main difference is that the speech in North Carolina was less planned than the one in Washington, and attended by much less people.

  • holdenj-orv
    1/30/2018 - 02:55 p.m.

    WHAT?!??!?!??!?!?! MLK GAVE TWO "I HAVE A DREAM" SPEECHES?!?!??! THATS CRAZY!!!!!!

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