MLK's First 'I Have a Dream' Speech Is Revealed

Long-lost reel-to-reel tape turned up in North Carolina library
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2015 7:30 PM CDT
MLK's First 'I Have a Dream' Speech Is Revealed
Martin Luther King Jr. is seen delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington in 1963. Nine months prior in North Carolina, he gave the original version, a recording of which was just released.   (AP Photo)

Thanks in part to the "mysterious appearance" of a box containing an old reel-to-reel tape and bearing the message "Please do not erase," Martin Luther King Jr.'s original "I Have a Dream" speech has been replayed in public for the first time. It's a speech that was delivered at a North Carolina high school on Nov. 27, 1962—nine months before his vastly more famous version was delivered at the March on Washington. ABC 11 reports historians had known about the occasion of the first speech, but proof was elusive. That changed when English professor Jason Miller tracked down a copy of it in late 2013 at a Rocky Mount library while researching for a book on King, reports the AP.

Braswell Public Library staff don't know where the box containing the tape came from (it just showed up on a desk one day), and no one had listened to it until Miller found it. The digitally restored recording—in which King used the phrase "I have a dream" eight times—was played for the public for the first time today at North Carolina State University. The AP describes it as "fortunate" that King practiced the dream language in the address given to about 2,000 people at Booker T. Washington High School: That part didn't appear in the typed speech he was to give in Washington. He reportedly improvised after singer Mahalia Jackson called out "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" You can listen to the recording here, or see side-by-side comparisons of selected passages here. (Read more history stories.)

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