Before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of thousands of people on the Lincoln Memorial steps in Washington in 1963, he made it to a much smaller audience in North Carolina. An English professor discovered an early recording of the speech, which King gave in a high school gymnasium in Rocky Mount on Nov. 27, 1962.
Reporters had covered the speech, but no one knew about a recording until Jason Miller’s discovery in the fall of 2013. Miller came across the reel-to-reel tape in a town library while conducting research for his book on how King drew inspiration from the poetry of Langston Hughes, Associated Press reports.
Miller shared the recording with the world for the first time Tuesday at North Carolina State University. Miller described the speech as “part civil rights address” and “part mass meeting” with “the spirit of a sermon.” He claimed he had never heard Dr. King combine all of those genres into a single moment.
King used the phrase “I have a dream” eight times in his speech to the 2,000 people gathered at Booker T. Washington High School. He also said he dreamed of “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners” meeting at “the table of brotherhood.”
But on the steps of Lincoln Memorial eight months later, he changed the line to “sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Several comparisons can be made between the two speeches, but one thing was the same. “Let Freedom Ring” was his rallying cry, AP reports.
Miller was comparing poetry of Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King’s speeches at the time of the discovery. While researching, he came across a newspaper story about a transcript of the speech in state archives.
He thought that if there is a transcript, then there must be a recording. So he started the process of finding it. Eventually, someone from the Braswell Public Library in Rocky Mount gave him what he was looking for. The tape was there in a box that said, “please do not erase.”
Miller confirmed that the tape could be played safely and he had audio expert George Blood digitize the tape. You can listen to the recording here.