Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered for giving his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington. But that wasn’t the first time a variation of that speech saw the light of day.
A recent discovery confirmed historians’ suspicions that eight months before the historic march, Dr. King gave a version of his most famous speech in a more humble venue: a high school gymnasium at Rocky Mount, N.C.
Jason Miller, an English professor at North Carolina State University, found a recording of what he says is the first time King ever gave the speech. Professor Miller discovered the tape in an unmarked box in a library while researching how the civil rights icon was influenced by black poet Langston Hughes, ABC’s WTVD reported.
The restored recording was played publicly for the first time Tuesday at NC State’s Centennial Campus. For several people in the audience, hearing the recording may have stirred up old memories: three people present Tuesday had also sat in King’s original Rocky Mount audience in 1962. Tolokum Omokunde, a pastor who met King during his visit to Rocky Mount, told the Associated Press that King’s words flowed like liquid. Herbert Miller, a senior at the Rocky Mount high school when King gave the speech, spoke at the presentation of the recording about what it was like having King visit the town during that era, WTVD reported.
The discovery of the relic documenting the debut of King’s iconic speech could not come at a more significant time: As in the 1960s, race relations are now at the forefront of national discussion as the death of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., at the hands of a white cop reaches its one-year anniversary.
Mr. Brown’s death, and many similar ones that followed, sparked national outrage over the perceived prevalence of racially motivated police brutality and push for reform, encompassed in the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Patrik Jonsson writes,
Policing reforms proposed after Ferguson have gained various amounts of traction. Body cameras are becoming more commonplace, and are widely seen as a safeguard for both civilians and police. Washington has modified the process for allowing police departments to receive used military equipment. Some states, including New York and Connecticut, now appoint special prosecutors to look into controversial use-of-force incidents.
Still, protests in Ferguson and beyond continue out of frustration over a perceived lack of real change. The Monitor’s Henry Gass writes,
Some residents are wondering whether the apparent changes in Ferguson may be only temporary, like the ‘interim’ tags on the new senior officials.
‘I don’t think you can judge people on political victories a year out,’ says Brendan Roediger, a professor at the St. Louis University School of Law.
‘The answer is Ferguson now is largely the same as it was a year ago,’ he adds. ‘The difference is now people are fighting.’
While the original recording of King’s speech was being presented in North Carolina, another reenactment of the 1960s civil rights movement was taking place not far away. Marchers with the NAACP’s Journey for Justice, a march from historic Selma, Ala., to Washington, D.C., were on their way from Georgia to South Carolina, according to the event’s schedule. The march – like the original March on Washington – is meant to bring awareness to issues affecting black Americans, like voting discrimination. “Our lives, our votes, our jobs, and our schools matter,” goes the event’s slogan.
NAACP Southwestern Region organizer Quincy Bates told NBC when the march began on Aug. 1 that the work of King and his contemporaries was being undone.
"Fifty years ago, they gave us the right to vote and fifty years later, we're being challenged again," he said."This is my turn. This is my time. They did it for me and I will be doing it for someone else."
This report contains material from the Associated Press.