ALBANY — Americans and the world now have a chance to hear the powerful words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a new context -- a 1962 speech delivered in New York City, and which was only recently rediscovered in the audio archives of the NYS Museum.
The speech was recorded during the state’s Civil War Centennial, and specifically during the centennial observation of President Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
That document was Lincoln’s Sept. 22, 1862, warning to all rebel states that they must rejoin the Union by the end of the year, or he would order the emancipation of the people they held in slavery, thus providing them full sanctuary in the North and the ability to fight against their former masters -- and which he subsequently did on the very first day of January, 1863, with the Emancipation Proclamation.
A hundred years later, in 1962, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller brought the state’s Civil War Centennial Commission together for a dinner at New York’s Park-Sheraton Hotel to celebrate the 100th anniversary of that Preliminary proclamation, and invited Dr. King to be the speaker.
Dr. King’s schedule, however, was already taken for that evening, and the speech would not have occurred but for three outrages in Georgia -- the burning of three African American churches.
Dr. King wanted them rebuilt and Rockefeller agreed to fund the money, so King adjusted his schedule.
The speech was recorded by Enoch Squires, a research associate for the Civil War Commission, who was previously a well-known radio columnist, the “Schenectady Traveler,” at WGY, and whose widow later donated almost 400 of his tapes from that show and more to the museum in 1979.
The museum has, in recent times, been working to digitize its audio and video recordings, slowly working its way through thousands of holdings, and this past fall, in 2013, they were working on the Squires collection of recorded tapes, when an alert staffer saw a box with a piece of masking tape on it, and the words, “EP DINNER NYC -- Rockefeller, Martin Luther King -- Sept. 12 62,” and that was the beginning of history being rediscovered.
The entire audio -- it is the only known recording of it -- is on line at www.nysm.nysed.gov/mlk and is accompanied with the actual text of his speech, as well as a number of other important related materials, all part of the museum’s on-line exhibition.
For those who are perhaps used to hearing Dr. King only speak excerpts of his speeches, this recording, done about a year before his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, is an incredible, moving statement of his genius and humanity.
NYS Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch stated it perfectly in announcing the on-line exhibition.
“This is a remarkable treasure,” said Tisch. “More than 50 years later, Dr. King’s voice has come back to life.”
“It’s a rare and special opportunity,” she said, “to once more hear the power of Dr. King’s words.”
“Every New Yorker and every American,” said Tisch, “should take the opportunity to listen to this speech.”
State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr., agreed.
“We’ve exhibited the typewritten text of the speech before,” he said, “but this audio recording allows us to experience the real power and courage of Dr. King’s speech as he delivered it back in 1962.”
“This is history,” said King, “come to life.”
For those who want to see the materials first hand, there will also be a special exhibition of the images, the recording, and the manuscript on exhibit, beginning next month at the State Museum.