Before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington in 1963, he fine-tuned his civil rights message before a much smaller audience in North Carolina.
Reporters had covered King’s 55-minute speech at a high school gymnasium in Rocky Mount on Nov. 27, 1962, but a recording wasn’t known to exist until English professor Jason Miller found an aging reel-to-reel tape in a town library. Miller played it in public for the first time Tuesday 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 to about 2,000 people at Booker T. Washington High School in Rocky Mount, 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,” saying he dreamed they would “meet at the table of brotherhood.” On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King changed that to “sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” In both speeches, “Let Freedom Ring” served as his rallying cry.
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