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Restored recording of MLK's speech in Rocky Mount unveiled

Posted August 11, 2015

— There's a sign in Rocky Mount that tells part of the story.

It’s a historical marker that states Martin Luther King Jr. first delivered a version of his "I have a Dream" speech a school gym down the street in 1962, nine months before he spoke those words on the mall in Washington, D.C.

“These wonderful residents of Rocky Mount and the City of Rocky Mount have known about this, but there is no substitute for hearing the Dr. King at the height of his oratorical prowess,” said Jason Miller, an English professor at North Carolina State University.

Miller should know. He uncovered the entire audio recording of the historic speech in the city's library two years ago. Now that it's been fully restored, the speech was played publicly for the first time Tuesday at a news conference at N.C. State. Listen to part of it here. The full recording will be released Nov. 27.

Herbert Tillman came to the news conference to hear the recording, but that was not his the first time hearing the speech. He was in the gym when King uttered those iconic words.

“It just stirred up all kinds of emotions in my heart,” Tillman said. “At the time, I didn’t realize the in-depth significance of it.”

For Tillman, King’s words represented hope.

“We had the same ‘colored’ and ‘white’ water fountains, just like they did in Alabama,” he said. “So, anybody who cared anything about equal rights and justice – yes, they followed Martin Luther King. And I definitely did.”

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  • Glenn Silver Aug 13, 2015
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    The theme of the speech WAS NOT 'I have a dream.' That was the rhetorical flourish at the conclusion. The theme was that the powers that be in our nation's capitol were writing us bad checks in regard to our demand for equal rights. Every time we tried to cash a check for equal political, social, economic, and judicial rights, the check came back stamped 'insufficient funds. After 50 years of accepting the same ragged checks and trying to cash them in the state houses and US Congress the checks are still stamped 'insufficient funds.' Therefore, we need a radical transformation of the system so there will be no more such checks to be given or accepted and no more morally bankrupt institutions to which we look to cash them