There are certain speeches that stand the test of time – Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” John F. Kennedy’s “Inauguration Address,” and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” among them – and this is because the message is so clearly wrought, the concepts so enduring and universal, that any generation can appreciate and learn from them. As we mark Dr. King’s 85th birthday today, a story in the New York Daily News reveals the discovery of a new recording of a different, but no less important, speech by the slain civil rights icon.
The 26-minute address was recorded and donated to the New York State Museum, where it apparently became lost until an intern came across it last year. Museum director Mark Shaming says that he is “thrilled” to bring this tape to the public, but one can only wonder how something so vital and important could have been allowed to languish for so long in the cobwebs.
Nevertheless, it is now available and well worth your time. As always, Dr. King’s words are eloquent and straight to the point. He notes the continued inequity for black people in America 100 years after Emancipation Proclamation, and that we needed to “make its declaration of freedom real.” At that time we were not adhering to the message of hope that it gave to the “unfree world.” He said we had to “reaffirm democracy” by the way we live our lives and conduct business. In other words, not by going about our daily routines as if everything in our country adhered to the “message of equality” that the Founding Fathers put forth so long ago but that the country had yet to realize for all its people.
You can listen to the speech and feel chills run along your arms. This “new” recording will get to you because not only does Dr. King discuss the Emancipation Proclamation, but he also explains his civil rights message and plans for the future. The is an indispensable resource, and indeed “a remarkable treasure” as noted by Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch.
Of course, this kind of window into the mind of the brilliant and charismatic Dr. King does make you pause and wonder about what could have been if his life had not been cut short. There was so much more for him to do, and as we can see from the world around us, his presence would be just as essential now as it was fifty-two years ago. This is the most salient aspect of listening to this speech – his words still have relevance and hopefully will still motivate people to make a difference in this country and the world.
We can only wonder what it must have been like to be at that hotel and hear Dr. King speak. Thankfully, this recording allows us a golden opportunity to actually hear his words. Now on this day that we honor him, the most important thing we all can do is to live by them.
Photo credits: New York State Archives