Early Recording Found of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

“It is awe-inspiring and gives you goosebumps on your arms,” Jason Miller, a poetry professor at North Carolina State University, told USA TODAY Network about hearing the recording for the first time.

King gave the speech on Nov. 27, 1962, before a crowd of about 1,800 people in Rocky Mount, N.C. While the Rocky Mount speech is not as well known, it includes many similarities to the famous August 1963 version King gave from the Lincoln Memorial.

The Rocky Mount speech was covered by local newspapers, but an audio recording was not known to exist until Miller found it while researching his book Origins of a Dream: Hughes’s Poetry and King’s RhetoricThe book explores the connection between Langston Hughes’s poetry and King’s speeches.

The box where the tape was found was rusted and the plastic reel was broken, but the recording itself was in great shape and has been digitized, Miller said. The tape is 55 minutes long and includes three of King’s most famous phrases — “Let freedom ring,” “How long, not long,” and “I have a dream.”

Miller said that kind of intentional rhetorical practice is a sign of a “master orator.”  In the process of researching, Miller was able to confirm that Hughes’ work, and specifically the poem “I dream a world,” influenced King’s speeches.  “They knew each other, exchanged letters and Dr. King incredibly revered Langston Hughes,” he said.

Understanding what inspired King’s words and how they changed over time is important, according to Miller. “It sheds light on what is easily the most recognizable speech in American history,” he said.

And the message of King’s Rocky Mount speech holds up today, he said.  “The central part of Dr. King’s speech was talking about access to the ballot and voting rights,” he said. “And as you know that’s as important today as it was in 1962.”

Miller is working on an online annotated version of the Rocky Mount speech that will be published for the public in November.

article by Lori Grisham via usatoday.com

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