University Professor Finds an Audio Tape of an Early “I Have a Dream” Speech

KingBookMartin Luther King Jr. presented his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963. But few people know that Dr. King gave a rough draft of that famous speech in the gymnasium of a racially segregated high school in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

On November 27, 1962, Dr. King addressed a crowd of 1,800 people in the high school gym. Apparently, this was the first time that Dr. King used the words “I have a dream” in a speech.

Several years ago W. Jason Miller, an associate professor of English at North Carolina State University who was working on a book project, found a transcript of the Rocky Mount speech. He concluded that a tape must have been made. In 2013, after an extensive search he found an audio tape in an old cardboard box in the Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount. On the tape were the words “Dr. Martin Luther King Speech: Please do not erase.”

The tape is an audio recording of the 55-minute address Dr. King gave in Rocky Mount nine months before his address at the Lincoln Memorial. Professor Miller is digitizing the recording and plans to put it online this fall. He has created 89 annotations for the speech that will be accessible through hyperlinks on the website.

“There are no edits, there are no dubs, there are no missing words in this speech,” Dr. Miller said. “You can hear the audience’s reactions, you can hear Dr. King rap on the podium, you can hear exactly how he enunciated his words, and more importantly, you can hear what I consider to be the most unique speech of his career.”

Dr. Miller is the author of the book Origins of the Dream: Hughes’s Poetry and King’s Rhetoric (University Press of Florida, 2015).

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