Martin Luther King Jr. recordings uncovered | Presbyterian Historical Society

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Martin Luther King Jr. recordings uncovered

January 16, 2013
Martin Luther King in Civil Rights March on Washington, DC, August 28, 1963. via National Archives and Records Administration, ARC ID#542014

Several recordings of public appearances by Martin Luther King, Jr. have recently been uncovered at PHS. In honor of Martin Luther King Day, we'd like to share parts of them with you. 

On September 21, 1966, three thousand people packed the Hartley-Woods Gymnasium of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Our recording, a seven inch open-reel tape running 69 minutes, was contained in the official records of Board of National Missions General Secretary Kenneth Neigh. Until August 2010, a group of 92 boxes including personal papers of Neigh's and official records of his deputy Mildred Herman were housed at Princeton Theological Seminary.

In processing Neigh's official records, PHS Collection Management Archivist Bill Brock came across a box full of open-reel tapes. Upon examination, he found one marked "MLK Speech at Charlotte." Consulting with archivists at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Bill found a program from King's speech and was able to confirm that PHS's tape was from the same event.

In the recording, at the invitation of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Commission on Religion and Race and the Synod of Catawba, Dr. King speaks of the spiritual poverty left in the wake of America's great material progress. King describes a nation riven by racial injustice into prosperous and dispossessed halves. In this clip, King examines both the obvious and the insidious sources of inequality in America, naming the violence of the Ku Klux Klan as much as the "silence and indifference of the good people."

In 1965, King appeared at the Christian Action Conference at Montreat, N.C., a gathering of civil rights activists within the Southern stream of the church to deliver "The Church on the Frontier of Racial Tension." In this portion, King laments that future historians will find that "[...]the Christian church in the South was the last bastion of segregated power."

Finally, recently uncovered in a collection of audio tapes from the former Presbyterian Church in the U.S. is a Christian Broadcasting Associates radio interview with King from February 9, 1957, one month after the bombing of parsonages and churches in Montgomery, Alabama. In this clip, King hopes for the end of "the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man."