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Listen to newly discovered 1962 MLK Jr. speech

5:32 PM, Jan 20, 2014   |    comments
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking to a gathering in Atlanta in 1960 (AP file)
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ALBANY, N.Y. (USA Today) -- The New York State Museum has unearthed a long-lost audio recording of a 1962 speech from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., state officials announced Monday.

An intern found the recording as museum staff worked on digitizing thousands of audio and video recordings in its collection, has been posted to the museum's website.

"This is a remarkable treasure," state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a statement. "More than 50 years later, Dr. King's voice has come back to life."

The speech was recorded Sept. 12, 1962, at the Park-Sheraton Hotel in New York City, where Gov. Nelson Rockefeller had convened his state Civil War Centennial Commission. It was delivered at a dinner celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

King originally had a conflict that night, but Rockefeller enticed him by donating money to rebuild black churches that had been destroyed by arson in Georgia, said Jennifer Lemak, senior historian at the museum.

During the talk, King previewed many of the themes he would return to the following year in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" and his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington.

The online exhibit includes a manuscript of the speech and the original event program. The audio is the only known recording of the 1962 address.

"The Negro will never cease his struggle to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation by making his emancipation real," King said that day. "If enough Americans in numbers and influence join him, the nation we both labored to build may yet realize its glorious dream."

In the 26-minute speech, King spoke of the inequality that African Americans still faced in the 1960s. He discussed the history and importance of the Emancipation Proclamation and its failures to truly free African Americans and create equality:

The unresolved race question is a pathological infection in our social and political anatomy, which has sickened us throughout our history, and is still today a largely untreated disease. How has our social health been injured by this condition? The legacy is the impairment of the lives of nearly 20 million of our citizens. Based solely on their color, they have been condemned to a sub-existence, never sharing the fruits of progress equally.

Toward the end of the address, King urges all Americans to "enlist in a crusade finally to make the race question an ugly relic of a dark past."

As one listens to King speak, the video shows a slow scroll of King's typed speech, including his handwritten notes and revisions in blue marker.

Enoch Squires, a former radio reporter in Schenectady who became a research associate for Rockefeller's commission, recorded the event's speeches. His widow donated nearly 400 of his recordings to the New York State Museum in 1979, but King's speech went undiscovered until late last year.

Squires used a reel-to-reel magnetic tape which had to be manually turned over, resulting in the loss of a small segment of King's speech.

"I encourage you all to listen to Dr. King's words and to reflect on this seminal moment in our nation's history," New York's state education commissioner, John King, said in the exhibition's video. "As you'll hear in his final remarks that night in 1962, Dr. King knew that progress had been made in the struggle for civil rights but there was still so much work to be done."

John King said the state previously had displayed the text of the speech, but the audio shows how the civil rights leader "used the power of his voice and his words to change the nation."

"This audio recording allows us to experience the real power and courage of Dr. King's speech as he delivered it back in 1962," John King said in a statement. The state Education Department oversees the museum.

A manuscript of the speech will be displayed at the state Museum starting in February.

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(USA Today)

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